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.
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?