26 April 2013

It's a mystery

Mysteries come in all shapes, sizes and kinds.
My first attempt to reach Topsham, yesterday, went well for the first couple of hundred kilometres but was thwarted in the last five ... a threatened suicide closed rail and road routes for long enough to lose me the evening. My second try, today, seemed to be following suit, as a fellow rail passenger was taken ill in the same last stretch and had to be airlifted out; but the evacuation was swift, and I arrived in time. Such an unlikely coincidence on the same line, on two consecutive days, constituted my own small personal contribution to the mysteries of the universe.
The mysteries for which I had come, however, were well worth the effort. I was there to see Ray Girvan (of JSB blog) play bayan for Estuary Players' production of Tony Harrison's The Mysteries, and even though I wasn't able to stay to the end of the evening, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The production was staged in the main body of St Margaret's parish church, and wonderful use was made of the setting: stage in the altar area, music section in the adjacent arch, audience in the pews. Eden's tree of the knowledge of good and evil was embodied in a human figure holding the fatal fruit. The shepherds and magi seeking the Christ child arrived (with sheep and dromedaries respectively) up the main aisle. The humour of the original mystery cycle was perfectly handled, with modern twists – the lamb taken by Mak the sheep stealer, for instance, being played by Shaun the Sheep, while the dromedaries were accompanied by Monty Python and the holy grail style clipclop sound effects.
Not that the humour was over dominant. The story of Abraham and Isaac (from Genesis 22), from which every fibre of my being has always recoiled, here became something to draw me in and break my heart. Mimed, to the solo accompaniment of  a haunting song from the music section, it highlighted the human pain at its heart, moved me to tears and became my high point of the night. Truly beautiful.
My only regret was that I couldn't, for much of the time, isolate Ray's bayan (my original reason for being there) from the amplified electronic instruments around it. He came through identifiably at times, probably because I was consciously tuned to listen for him, but was often lost as an individual voice – but his playing was, of course, a component in the overall success which is what really matters.
This is, I realise, a bit late to be singing the praises of a production whose last night I have just left. But if you are within reach of the Estuary Players’ next venture, I thoroughly recommend marking it on your calendar.

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