Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

...a Collection of Quiddities. And inkpots. And most often, cobwebs...
  • Featured Image -- 826
  • 2013chscarygoodfunrt

Latest

A Night at the Theatre: The Wonderful World of Dissocia at Questors, Ealing

authorsanon:

Impressive space, amazingly well supplied with comfy bar and very relaxing cafe/lounge area upstairs….

Originally posted on AuthorsAnon:

The trailer is up and the rehearsals are winding down – or up – to the big night: Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia, which opens 22nd May at The Questors Theatre in Ealing.

The play won the 2004-05 Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland for Best New Play and made its London debut at the Royal Court Theatre in March 2007; it was also included in The List’s Best of a Decade in 2009. But as for what to expect when you go to see it, that is perhaps best left to the wonderful words of the director, David Emmet and stage manager Cathy Swift:

 A Wonderful World Awaits

 What’s the most frequent conversation you’ve had over the last year? Mine goes like this:

Member or friend: Hello David. What’s your next production?

Me: The Wonderful World of Dissocia.

Member or Friend: Oh. I’ve never…

View original 504 more words

A Night at the Theatre: Animals at 503 (Latchmere), Batteresea

Arsenic and Old Lace meets George Orwell in this dystopian comedy noire; admittedly, we are missing mad uncle Teddy and murderous brother Jonathan with his creepy alcoholic surgeon Dr Einstein – still, the spirit is there and continues unabated throughout, almost as madcap and surreal, threaded through with a social consciousness of how close humanity can trip over the edge in the hands of … bureaucracy. And not just any bureaucracy. Orwell was disturbingly prophetic in many ways, and the one conjured up in Adams’ play has already spiralled out of control, making gods and demons out of the characters that live it: farce, blackmail and something nasty in the woodshed combine to make this a pleasantly chilling and surreal mystery.
It is the Future. Arguably, a not too distant one, with thinly disguised policies of the present done up as a meritocratic system: those who can still pass ‘Utility’ tests (to prove they are functioning, ‘useful’ human beings) keep Green or Amber Permits and are permitted to live while those who don’t…are not. A lethal injection of air is promptly administered to those considered ‘useless’.
Enter Norma in her reclining armchair (which Joy her cohort is not allowed to sit in for fear of spoiling the warranty), getting by on a forged Amber Permit and a spider’s web of intrigue and blackmail. She is waiting for neighbour Helen (fighting fit on Amber) to finish the crossword before the 5 o’clock post – it might almost be the beginning of an Agatha Christie. The fun has only just begun however: the usual Utility Inspector (or Exterminator, depending on how you look at it) who so far has been able to help cover up for her, as been replaced (the term redundancy taking on a whole new sinister meaning here) and the new one is shortly expected on the estate where Norma lives.
Enter the new Utility Inspector: go-getting, zero-hours contracted Noah, who is keen, enthusiastic and under a lot of pressure to give his daughter Maya a ‘Fun’ day so she can pass her birthday test tomorrow, or else risk becoming a mere Comfort Girl.
Enter Maya. Maya has a pink balloon. Maya loves her pink balloon. Maya wants to have fun. Maya is nearly 18 and challenged – and continues to be so: first by Daddy, who has to go off and ‘assess’ the inhabitants of the estate (‘Stay in the van, Maya,’ which she doesn’t), next by losing her balloon, and then by getting lost. She is found by Joy (out on an errand) – and discovery of her father’s important position as Utility Inspector can mean only one thing: Joy takes Maya back to Norma’s house. Now the plot begins to thicken. Maya is both deliverance and tumbling block to the ladies’ conspiracy – the question is, who will come out top?
The dystopia unfolds piece by piece against Norma’s web of deception and secrets, a web that stops at nothing in the business of survival.
There are enthusiastic and sympathetic performances from al the cast,and excellent character acting: Marlene Sidaway as Norma is the jewel in the crown – on stage from start to finish, spewing intelligent cunning and indomitable spirit in equal measure, she is a force to be reckoned with.
The whole piece is played with good-humoured menace and classic comedic delivery, against a set reminiscent of a ruined French chateau or Italian palace, down to the broken wallpaper on the wall echoing an unfinished landscape by Boucher or Tiepolo in a rococo frame; the wall itself is cunningly back-lit at crucial moments to display the room beyond – where the larder is…

Ultimately this is a play about secrets, survival and what actually makes murderers of us all. It will also bring laughter even to the jaded theatre-goer weary of contemporary themes.
Just don’t eat the sandwiches. You’ll wish you hadn’t.

Animals runs until 2nd May at 503 Theatre, Battersea

The Rapid Write Response (on Sunday and Monday) offered variety and invention in reply to Animals – all held together with the common theme of horror, each ten-minute sketch holding at least a pinch of it in the palm of its text: survivalism, the evaluation of life (human and animal), murder and its definition, even Maya’s Pink Balloon turned up in Pop! and offered the exuberant message of seizing the moment and letting things go – there were also themes of memories and coping with them, the sub-culture and influence of reality TV, and dystopian futures.

A special mention for actors Jill Riddiford and Keith Hill in Deadlock,  who showed intelligent acting and such ability to actually listen to each other on stage – a skill not always evident even in the best run West End shows …

A Handful of … Words.

I went to see a play the other afternoon; I had been waiting to see it ever since I spied a line about its intriguing title on Twitter in September: Fear in a Handful of Dust.

Then I saw it was set during the First World War. More, it was set in the trenches. Not much else was said at the time, but it was enough to whet my curiosity, so when last week I saw it was on – and further, that there was a writing opportunity involved, I stuffed my note-and sketch-books into the Black Hole that serves as a bag, and set off.

Had I been there before, I might have made a better choice of bus; next time I shall be more prepared. I arrived at CogArtSpace, lunch-less and virtually breakfast-less, in time for one very welcome mug of tea which they kindly allowed me to take upstairs to the theatre. I did my best not to slurp. I suppose I should have been drinking it out of a billy-can, in keeping with the setting of the play.  I relinquished it fairly quickly in favour of my note-books, however. I would have sketched (I generally try to when I go to the theatre unless the charcoal makes too much noise during the quiet bits), but the ideas, once they started coming, didn’t really allow me to do other than scribble.

The action evolves in a trench in early September 1916 – the audience becomes part of that trench, listening in on two soldiers, battling their way through fear, hope, despair and contrasts – contrasts in their backgrounds, culture and beliefs, struggling towards an uneven camaraderie, ultimately attempting to save each other’s lives.

The atmosphere is faultless as is the acting – well-chosen, well-placed and well-delivered, they convince, involve and empathize.

The size of the theatre naturally makes it an immersive experience – yet the trench itself takes on a larger presence as the play goes on, until it becomes one of the players; in turn sheltering, challenging and intimidating until the final challenge is set and accepted.

What I found particularly engaging, aside from the striving of humanity against all odds, was the theme of India: until now there has been little Western coverage of the Indian Army in the trenches of WWI – yet its men did help shorten the war  (1914sikhs.org) and battles like Gallipoli might have had a very different outcome had more of them been deployed.

Happily the focus is gradually changing from general unawareness to acute appreciation, and the poignant images of wounded Sikh soldiers at Brighton Pavilion Hospital, the poetry of their letters home, the dauntless courage shown in the face of a seemingly implacable enemy and more will, I hope, take their true place in the annals of history alongside the Owens, Sassoons and Graves of the Western Front. It was with this in mind that I wrote my pennyworth of response, and while there was a great deal more I wished to put in, there is only so much anyone can fit into fifteen minutes of stage. Yet from this I hope something more may come. (And now to find some actors …)

Meanwhile I close with an example of the Indian Army’s own particular brand of bravery in the following anecdote from the interview with Gordon Corrigan on 1914sikhs.org:

“…There is the story of Rifleman Gane Gurung, 2/3rd Gurkha Rifles, at Neuve Chapelle. A British advance was held up by a house in the middle of the village which was fortified and strongly held by German infantry. Without orders, and in an example of suicidal stupidity (and bravery), Gane alone ran across the square and burst through the front door. Everyone assumed he would shortly be dead.

There was much shooting and shouting, then silence. The front door opened and out came a file of seven large Germans, hands in the air, followed by a 5ft, 2 inches Gane with rifle and bayonet. The village was captured shortly afterwards.”

"Hodsons Horse France 1917 IWM Q 2061" by Brooks, Ernest (Lt) - This is photograph Q 2061 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hodsons_Horse_France_1917_IWM_Q_2061.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hodsons_Horse_France_1917_IWM_Q_2061.jpg

“Hodsons Horse France 1917 IWM Q 2061″ by Brooks, Ernest (Lt) – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fear In A Handful of Dust by Sevan K.Greene will run through December until January 9th at Cog ArtSpace

Fearful Response, 5 writers’ responses to Fear in a Handful of Dust, will be directed and performed at Cog ArtSpace on the 16th of December

Admission free

Halloween Special

Like buses – nothing for ages, then three at once …

To help round off the Coffin Hop with a grand finale, I got together with a couple of publishers to hold a (nearly)week long giveaway (Monday to Sunday), with the chance to win 3 titles together: Cass McMain’s Watch (vampirism) and two ghost tales: Summers’ End by V.RChristensen with a rather sinister  pair of spectacles and my sorry excuse for a ghost tale, Ungentle Sleep which is a tongue-in-cheek take on haunted houses, with attics and, well, things going bump in them ….

Owing to WordPress’s layout, the giveaway page is again reduced to a link, however, it will be posted elsewhere and tweeted not infrequently. And there is the tale of the Red Footprints in A Night  at the Theatre meanwhile…

Simply click on the link here below, or top right  (on the main page), and choose how you want to participate (via tweeting, FB-ing, visiting the Coffin Hop!); there will be 5 prizes and around 10 runners-up… (if anyone joins in…)

About the Coffin Hop: this is the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror.

The Coffin Hop Bumper Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Coffin Hop Giveaways …

Starting on the 29th and ending on the 30th, there will be a Giveaway of ghost novella, Ungentle Sleep – set in 1930, a house party has gathered, in part to celebrate the recent engagement of the daughter of the house. But there is. apparently, an uninvited guest .. inadvertently let out, to wreak mild havoc and insanity on the Maydews and their guests. That nasty incident involving Eleanor, followed by unpleasantness over Penny’s dress, and what is it Aubrey can hear, on the outer edge of his dreams?

Hysteria, missed cocktails, and something nasty in the attic.

Snrrip, snrrip. Snip, snap.

Even the rats run away.

image002

This will be followed by another Giveaway straight after, starting on the 30th and ending on the 1st November: a free copy is to be won of Cass McMain’s Watch, an alternative take on vampirism (great review here on Alibi) –

Before he knew about the bruises, he knew about the cheating. And before he knew about the cheating, he knew about the blood. He’d seen Edgar with blood on his hands before, after all. But there had been more and more of it – and  Edgar had seemed less and less concerned about hiding it…”

Watch is published by Holland House Books, and is about really scary people …

Watch - DIGITAL web

Happy Spooking !

A Night at the Theatre ….

(‘Tis that time of year again …. and I am late. And it is late. And this is a little long. Still, I hope it pleases ….Happy Spooking ! And don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site), the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror … in a few days I’ll be offering my tale Ungentle Sleep and there will also be a chance via giveaway to receive Cass McMain’s unusual take on vampirism in Watch, from Holland House Books (30-31 October, post coming soon…)

Pad, pad, pad, pant, pant, pant, pad, pad, pad, pant, pant. Woof.

‘Good boy, sit. All right, don’t sit, but stop wandering around, there’s a good fellow. Where were we?’ Felix Hartley, proprietor of the Rose Theatre, turned back to the theatre’s director, Daniel Wells. ‘Props, wasn’t it?’

It wasn’t props (Felix had a terrible habit of not paying attention) but it didn’t make much difference. Felix tended to leave everything in Wells’s capable hands, as he worded it. Thereby adding to the general headache of the thing.

‘It’s the footprints,’ repeated Wells, not a little wearily. Added to Felix’s propensity for not listening, he had a seeming inability to grasp the whole question of the reddish footprints appearing unannounced in various parts of the building. They did not make an impact on him, even when pointed out in all their disturbing detail. ‘Oh, ah, yes, those,’ he would say, patting his pockets, followed by ‘Now, about rehearsals for next week …’

Woof, went the overweight Pekinese at his feet, as if in support.

‘A few more have handed in their notice,’ continued Wells, now a little crossly, ‘and I simply do not have the time to be looking for fresh staff at such short notice – there’s the opening night in a week’s time, the scenery still to be sorted, and the lighting.’

‘Dear, dear, no, of course not. What a thing to happen. Cleaners, again ?’

The Pekinese started snuffling at Felix’s trouser hems.

‘Cleaners, call boy and now the prompter. Some of the cast are getting nervy too. Isobel’s threatening to pull out altogether unless something is sorted. What are we to do?’ This was serious. Isobel Courtney was the leading lady and a positive catch for the theatre itself, which had been teetering gently for a while now.

Finally Felix looked quizzical – a sign he might actually be applying himself to the problem in hand. The Pekinese meanwhile started padding around the room again.

‘Well,’ he said, after a long pause which indicated he had been debating with himself on a ticklish issue, ‘you could try … Septimus Brink.’

‘Septimus Brink? Who or what is Septimus Brink?’

‘Old crony of mine.  Knows this place. He’ll also know what to do with, ah, them.’

They were interrupted by muffled pandemonium from below. A red-faced youth in ill-fitting cap and suit appeared breathlessly at the open doorway of Felix’s office. ‘It’s the dresser,’ he gasped,  ‘something nasty in the wardrobe, so she says, threatening to hand in her notice.’ He gazed appealingly at Wells. ‘Will you come?’

‘I’ll be there in a minute – where is she now?’

‘Miss Aikfield’s dressing room, with the smelling salts.’

‘Very well – send for a doctor.’

Felix stared after the departing youth in puzzlement. ‘Isn’t he the understudy for –‘

‘Masefield, yes, he’s now doubling up as call boy until we get a new one. This Septimus Brink –  when can he come?’

Septimus Brink was a large presence; while not overweight, his bearing was of the sort that can fill a room on its own and knock an elephant down at ten paces flat.  He had a tendency to boom at people in a kindly manner until they gave in and let him carry on whole conversations uninterrupted. He was not what you might imagine a ghost-catcher to be, having none of the airs and graces of society mediums nor the mystery of a psychic, yet he proved very efficient at relieving people of unwanted ‘presences’, real or imaginary, with a happy combination of curiosity and common sense.

He swept into the theatre later that day with ample coat tails and a sleek top hat, and on sighting Felix boomed out: ‘It’s you again, is it?’ in avuncular fashion. Felix actually shuffled his feet and looked a trifle sheepish. His Pekinese let out a yelp of welcome and began wagging its tail.

‘Well, what is it this time?’

Felix turned to Wells, who took over with a resigned air: ‘I’d better just show you – and you could try talking to the dresser, the prompter; they haven’t left – yet.’

Wells escorted Brink along the corridor, towards the dressing rooms, whence an increasing volubility could be discerned; notably, the dresser and various members of the cast.

‘’Orrible it were,’ came the nasal tones of the dresser, ‘only saw it for an instance, but my life, never again – you won’t get me inside that room, I tell you – ‘orrible!’

‘There, there, dear, have some more brandy – oh, you have already,’ comforted one of the actors. The dresser, wobbly and sliding fast into mild incoherence, tottered over to a small easy chair and sank into it.

‘Show us the wardrobe, then,’ said Brink, to nobody in particular. Felix escorted him to the end of the corridor; on the left was a recess, with a cracked and peeling door on which was scratched in chalk  the single word ‘WARD’.

‘Ran out of chalk?’ asked Brink.

‘Something like that,’ murmured, Felix, now distinctly ill at ease. ‘We just never got around to adjusting it.  Whole place needs doing up, really …’ His Pekinese started to whimper.

Brink opened the door and fumbled about for the switch.

‘Allow me,’ offered Felix.  ‘Yap,’ went the Pekinese, cringing.

For barely a second as the light switched on, a figure was visible, smack in the middle of the room. Even Brink was visibly shaken. The light flickered and the figure moved towards them – then was gone.  The Pekinese yapped and yelped and had to be picked up.

‘Yes,’ commented Brink, ‘yes, I see. Quite upsetting, I imagine.’

‘Anything you can do?’ asked Felix.

‘Show me where these footprints are.’

‘Wells can do that – where is he…’

‘They turn up in different areas,’ explained Wells, once they had tracked him down to the stage where he had taken refuge behind a leftover precipice from the Tempest or something,  ‘– sometimes outside a dressing room, sometimes in the wings, once they followed one of the cast out of the theatre – at least, it looked like that.’

‘And then vanish?’

‘Yes, yes. Quite annoying, really.’

Brink walked over to face Wells, studying him carefully. ‘Follow people about, do they?’

‘Well, I don’t know about people generally – ‘

‘Which actor was this?’

‘Portland, Dicky Portland; he called in sick today – hope he’s not another one skedaddling off …’ Wells rubbed his head wearily, Felix jingled change in his pocket, whistling silently and the Pekinese, at his heels, woofed in muted sympathy.

Brink studied Wells a little more, then clapped him on the back.

‘Show me, as far as you can remember, the areas where the footprints have been seen. Starting with the first time they were seen.’

‘Oh dear, as far as I can remember … well … as to when, that’s easy enough – two days into rehearsals. At least, that’s when I saw them, just as I was coming up to the stage from the wings.’

‘Anyone on stage already?’

‘Oh yes, most of the cast, in fact. ‘

‘What did you see, exactly?’

‘Just that – footsteps, red ones – going around the stage as if someone were looking for something – or someone. I called for it to be cleaned – but by the time the boy came with mop and bucket, they had faded. Most perplexing. However, they didn’t reappear for a few days and we got on with things.’

‘Where next?’

Wells led them through the wings offstage and back to the dressing rooms. ‘Several times here, stopping outside different doors. Which ones? That I actually can’t remember, sorry, – but gave several people a fright. ’

‘How long would you say it took for them to fade?’

‘They seem to last a little longer each time – most recently, a day.’

‘Most satisfactory,’ said Brink comfortably. Wells stared at him. ‘Well, I’m glad to hear someone thinks so,’ he exclaimed, somewhat bitterly. ‘The question remains, what are you able to do about it?’

‘It might not rest with me, however,’ replied Brink, still completely at ease. ‘I would say however, that things are reaching a climax.’

‘I should say they are,’ complained Wells. ‘I have a cast in shreds, and notices being handed in left right and centre.’

‘It will require a late night at the theatre – let me see …’ Brink rummaged around in his pockets and drew out a small almanac. ‘Yes, I would say, in two night’s time.  Full cast present. No excuses. I meanwhile shall attend to a little research.  You can perhaps show me a list of all performances given here in the last, ooh, shall we say, twenty to forty years?’ Wells was quite nonplussed at this; Felix stepped forward. ‘I have records in my office. Follow me.’

Two nights and many, many complaints later, the full cast was assembled on stage: pale, wary and nervous. Wells, Felix (followed by Pekinese) and Brink joined them, bearing respectively an object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player, a round folding table and a tripod and camera.

The table was set up, the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player placed upon it, and Brink proceeded to set up the tripod and camera. The cast, with expressions varying from mild incredulity to outrage, gazed on speechless. Which, as Wells said afterwards, was something of a miracle in itself and passing all matters supernatural.

Brink took centre stage and began.

‘How does the ditty go – I have a little list, I have a little list,’ he chanted, pulling out a folded paper from his pocket. He proceeded to unfold it, as he went on: ‘After a little hunting about in the history of this place, and a little puzzle-solving, I rather think I have found a solution. By midnight or a little after, this theatre should be freed of its uninvited occupants and the show can, as they say, go on … The fact that there is to be a full moon should assist in the energizing of the elements involved.’ He ignored the derisive snort or two from his audience and continued, while consulting his notes: ‘From the records kept here at the theatre, I have discovered the following facts: one, that a performance of Macbeth was held in this very theatre in 1900 – no more than ten years ago.’

A slight stiffening of the cast here. Several members resolutely avoided looking at each other.

‘Said performance ran for one week only, owing to a fatal accident, depriving one of the actors of their life.’

Various intakes of breath; a collective, muted hissing. The Pekinese sniffed. Brink paused, looking around. ‘Indeed. I see some of you recall the episode well. But to proceed: the name of the hapless thespian was one Edward Vaughan.’

‘Really!’ expostulated Isobel, wrapped up in a mink stole and very irate, ‘is this necessary? Leave the poor man’s memory alone!’

‘I would, if he would – but his memory, it appears, lives on regardless. On the night of the performance, he was acting the part of Banquo – and, on cue, was indeed found dead; rather messily with a genuine claymore rather than the prop one. It appears he did not die immediately, but attempted to make his way backstage towards the dressing rooms before collapsing and expiring. Foul play was naturally not ruled out – but his assailant was never found.’

The Pekinese, still at its master’s feet, crouched down and whined a little.

‘’Those of you with longer acquaintance with this theatre might be able to recall the names of the cast of that final performance.’ He paused for dramatic effect. Nobody replied. ‘No? Then allow me to refresh your memories. Lady Macbeth, Miss Isobel Courtney, Macbeth, Roland Masefield, Macduff …’ Brink paused again.  Was there a sharp movement from within the group huddled together on the stage? ‘Macduff,’ repeated Brink – ‘Richard Por-’ he was interrupted at this point however by Mr Portland who, cursing and swearing, knocked over Brink and dashed from the stage. The Pekinese set up a wild barking and bounded about in paroxysms of hysteria.

‘Stop him!’ called out Wells but there was no need. The lights flickered and went out. There was a flash, followed by the sound of feet as Portland stumbled his way down the wings, then, unmistakably, the sound of other feet behind him – cut short soon after by a hideous scream.

The lights flickered back on. A general gasp broke out as everyone observed the trail of wet, red, half footprints now visible on the boards of the stage, leading off into the wings in the direction Portland had taken.

‘Banquo’s ghost has found his murderer,’ murmured Brink, who proceeded to examine the camera.

There was a cautious dash down the corridor to where Portland’s body could now be seen, lying mute and frozen on the floor. Felix’s Pekinese slunk at his heels giving out small whimpers.

Felix patted at his pockets. ‘Should we not call for assistance?’

‘Most definitely.’

The doctor was called first – who pronounced a case of heart failure. No external wounds, no visible signs of attack. The footprints, as previously, had by now disappeared once again. The doctor was perfectly happy to write out a straightforward certificate, and there really seemed little point in trying to explain otherwise.

The camera plate, once developed, proved most illuminating. The moment at which Brink, with characteristic presence of mind, had taken it showed Portland in the act of running from the stage – and behind him, a figure dressed in the costume of an ancient Scottish warrior bearing a very efficient looking weapon, in hot pursuit. The relatively distinct, if horribly bloodied, features of this individual were considered, after due consultation of a few old photographs, to be unquestionably those of former dramatic actor Edward Vaughan, deceased. The dresser, on seeing it, went back into hysterics and more than half a bottle of brandy was consumed in less than half an hour. Brink and Felix both confirmed this was the figure they too had seen. The Pekinese fully recovered its former equanimity and padded about the place as if nothing remotely untoward had happened at all.

As for the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player – well, it was, in a sense. Rather, it was a recording device, of peculiar sensitivity. Its discs, once played on a less unorthodox machine, proved to contain not only the voice of Brink expounding on the death of Vaughan, but also that of another, fainter yet still clear, repeating at intervals : ‘Murderer – I’ll have you yet.’ It was even possible to hear in the background soft thumps, which might or might not have been footsteps.

These, along with the plate containing the spectral image of Vaughan, returned with Septimus Brink to his home, to be added to his collection of phantom memorabilia: invaluable material for his ‘Theory of Manifestation’, he said, which he would one day write up.

The red footprints, as far as anyone knows, have never since been seen at the theatre.

Return of the Green Man …

This stone carving of a Green Man from Dore Ab...

From Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, England(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Is there a cathedral where you live? If so, chances are it will be an old one … just how old, would you say? And when you crane your head up to look at the ceiling, its arches lost in shadows, what else do you see? You might need binoculars, though – but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop of corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth; sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has only regained resonance in quite recent times: The Green Man.

Theories abound concerning his origins, both etymological and geographical; he turns up in a variety of guises, from Rome(Bacchus and Dionysius) to Mesopotamia and Egypt, (green-faced Osiris); he is Jack in the Green, Cernunnos, Pan, Silvanus, he can be found in Sumerian, Hindu, Aztec cultures – he exists  everywhere, a source of life and natural force . Occasionally neglected, his image however has survived in nooks and crannies, a constant reminder of man’s reliance on his natural environment and of man’s constant struggle with the elements. Another of his many names is Robin – but is he Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp – or Robin Hood, woodlander and defender of the poor? Apparently both and more: a guardian, a powerful god, an impish spirit, a playful invoker of spring and sprouting seedlings; at once venerated and feared:  for crops can fail too if you cause him displeasure … the corn dollies and harvest festivals are vestiges of something more than a ritual – they entreat the return of sun after winter, of growth after hibernation, they are offerings of supplication and penitence brought by children to their volatile father.

How has he fared with time, this father, this god of fertility and vitality? I mentioned he has gone through periods of comparative neglect, as when the Industrial Revolution stampeded across the countryside, bringing steam, iron roads and coal, blinding the people with its smoke, weakening his memory and perhaps also his strength and yet, something has struggled through, some collective memory perhaps, clinging onto the notion of one protective entity that will defend the very source of our food and means of survival. It is this protective aspect and this comparative neglect that I have focussed on in my mystery novel, Greenwood Tree. Here, the presence of the Green Man is hovering on the outer edges of dreams, occasionally manifesting himself (in more than one form) to warn and defend, his strength weakened by the frail memory of humanity. In addition he acts as the main linking figure in a multi-genre mystery, where detection meets mythology, in that foreign country called the past. In my mystery he has retreated, and his home is under threat, perhaps an indirect comment on his rather tenuous place in the cultural and social upheaval of the 1920s. I also tend to think of him as one of many Green Men, for to my mind there is something in the Ancient Greek idea that every tree contained its Dryad, every river and stream its Naiad : together unstoppable – but individually, vulnerable. In a similar way, the countryside from the time of the railway has been under constant, if gradual, threat, mirrored by England’s own very uncertain, susceptible condition in the aftermath of World War One. When Nature is attacked however, she has a way of fighting back, sometimes in unexpected ways.

The Green Man, in my treatment of him, thus becomes a metaphor for this vulnerable, while green and pleasant land. Disturb him at your peril.

Image

 

 

 (First posted as the Green Man Cometh on Dean’s Den)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,261 other followers