Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Monday, 20 May 2013

Doing something different: the story of Red Rose - White Rose

In recent months I’ve been having a thoroughly enjoyable time doing something totally unrelated to my own writing – unrelated, in fact, to anything else going on in my life. And it has been a joy!

It came about when Vivien Jones, a writer friend, was looking for someone with a Scottish voice to read in an adaptation of a short story. The story appears in Vivien’s White Poppies (Pewter Rose Press), a collection which look at the experience of how women cope, often from the sidelines, with war. She takes us from ancient myths through the various eras of history to the present day.

This particular story, Red Rose - White Rose, set immediately before the Battle of Flodden, explores how James IV’s wife, Queen Margaret and his mistress, Janet share the experience of loving a powerful man. Both stand to lose much when men go to battle on the bare moor of Flodden with their king. Interwoven throughout the dramatic readings Vivien and her husband, Richard, play 16th century music on an assortment of renaissance instruments: viols, recorders, renaissance guitar, harp and percussion.

Vivien already had the Queen, played by poet JoAnne McKay, and I became Janet, mistress of King James IV. My name is Janet Bairars – say it out loud!

I was nervous at first but the rehearsals were such fun and we all got on so well together I began to relax, especially as JoAnne and I were reading from our scripts rather than learning lines by heart. What was a real and unexpected bonus was how a day’s read through took my mind completely away from everything else in my life with which I have to cope. Dad with dementia, son in his final year at university, bread and butter deadlines to be met, all faded away for the space of our rehearsal times and I’d come home refreshed with batteries recharged. Vivien’s homemade soup and bread lunches helped, too, I’m sure.

The nerves came back when performance time came around and I did wonder exactly why I’d said yes to something which suddenly involved much stomach churning, sweaty palms and a conviction that when it was time to read I wouldn’t be able to se the words on the page. Of course, once we began, the fear evaporated – though it reappears to a greater or lesser degree before each performance.

Each performance – now, there’s a thing. I thought when I agreed to be Janet, we would do a couple of performances locally and that would be that. However, we are still performing and have an increasing number of dates in our diaries for future shows – and the venues are no longer local. We have bookings for Traquair House in Peeblesshire, where a Medieval Fair is being held on the May Bank Holiday weekend. We are incredibly excited to be booked to perform in the library of Abbottsford House, home of Sir Walter Scott and later in the year we will be at Stirling Castle. I’m thrilled to given this chance to visit places I’ve never been before.
We are also now in full 16th century costume, thanks to the Dumfries Historical Dance Society which has allowed us to hire costumes. Mine is a replica of a dress worn by the Countess of Warwick, complete with farthingale, skirt panel, overdress – it is gorgeous. It feels wonderful to wear it – though I have not yet tried to go to the loo while wearing it.

As 2013 is the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, there has been a lot of interest. Also, the wonderful music played throughout Red Rose - White Rose is a huge draw. Vivien and Richard are founders of The Galloway Consort, specialists in the playing of 15th-17th century music on appropriate instruments. Richard, indeed, is one of very few professional viol-makers in Britain, and the only one who specialises in the earliest viols used in Venice, based on a single extant original (c 1540) in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

It means I am meeting very different audiences from those who come along to a book reading or to hear me read poetry. They come up afterwards wanting to know about the musical instruments, the music, the costumes…  You can find out dates for future performances on Vivien’s website.

It has been (and continues to be) a truly wonderful experience and I am so glad Vivien asked me to take part and I found the courage to take the plunge and move out of my comfort zone to try something new and different.

Have any of you found similar enjoyment in doing something different?

12 comments:

  1. Oh that all sounds so wonderful, Mary - must admit I'm envious of such an opportunity! You look fabulous. I do love that period and the music - the whole performance should attract great interest. Enjoy every second!

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    1. Thanks, Rosemary. It almost makes me wish I write historical fiction. If ever I do at least I know how it feels to wear 16th century clothes. As the farthingale holds the skirt out, there is no clothing touching your legs - odd feeling. Takes a while to get dressed amnd we all need help with laces and bows!

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  2. Mary, that post was such a joy to read...you must let us know where and when you're performaing!

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  3. Thank you, Jennifer. Our next performance is 25 and 26 May (Bank Holiday weekend) at Traquair House and September 7th at the newly refurbished Abbottsford - Sir Walter Scott's home. It would be great to see you.

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  4. Wonderful, wonderful post and so very different from the norm. It's made me realise how we can all enrich our lives by being brave enough to go for things outside of our own day-to-day experiences....and for yours you get to dress up! Every little girl's dream!

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  5. So glad you enjoyed the post, Linda. The dressing up is, of course, great fun. We originally performed wearing corporate black and in some venues that may be still the most appropriate but wearing the costume adds something eextra, especially in some of the gorgeous venues like Paxton House.

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  6. I enjoyed the performance and your post was engaging too. Such talent!

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Kriss. I'm glad you enjoyed the performance.

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  7. Lovely costumes and I'm looking forward to seeing them in the flesh - possibly at Abbotsford.

    Doing something outwith my comfort zone - does agreeing to be Treasurer of the Romantic Novelists' Association count?

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    1. Gill, the costumes really are wonderful and there is something special about knowing the Countess of Warwick went about in 'my' costume. Hope to see you at Abbotsford. Vivien has checked out the performing space - in the library - and says it is stunning.

      Being Treasurer of the RNA does not count - you are an accountant so it's well within your comfort zone! I think I'm becoming more adventurous in my old age - did the zip wire at Laggan the other week. You go at up to 50 miles per hour down the hillside! That was outside my comfort zone but only the first time. There won't be the same anxiety next time.

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  8. Hope to see you in the play, Mary, it sounds wonderful, really evocative. Eleanor Roosevelt said we should do something every day that scares us a little. It all shapes us!

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  9. Thanks, Jenny. We did two performances in the chapel at Traquair House and spent the rest of the day swanning around in her costumes - wearing sunglasses! I wonder what they did in 1513 when the sun was so strong it made you scrunch up your eyes?
    Like the Eleanor Roosevelt quote.

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