Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Alice in Tonbridgeland....Tonbridge is under seige!

I couldn’t resist an invitation to see a play called Alice by HillviewSchool for Girls and Trinity Youth Theatre last Saturday evening, performed in and all around TonbridgeCastle. The play was written and directed by Graham Shackell. There were no seats, just yellow wrist bands to indicate that you were a member of the audience. Rather like the style of the recent community play we were invited to follow the cast around as the scenes unfolded in various locations.
In Scene 1 the men, mostly played by girls, prepared for the coming battle; we were informed in traditional story-telling style what possibly lay ahead. We were warned of a possible siege of the ancient castle at Tonbridge. The play was loosely based on historical fact; Gilbert, Lord of Tonbridge was a powerful nobleman in the thirteenth century and it is suggested that his wife Alice, a French countess was a notorious trouble maker and flirt and that she had the means and power to manipulate political situations.

The cast then moved around to the fields by the castle, where we witnessed, in a great cloud of smoke, a high impact charge of the medieval army about to lay siege to the Castle walls. We were then split into smaller “peasant militia squads” and led through the Castle chambers, dungeons and passageways for scenes of anguish, soldiers dying of their wounds and women in child birth, howling in agony as the too busy surgeon was unable to cope with the demand for his services. The woman was told that her needs were trifling next to those of the wounded soldiers; shortly afterwards she died!

There was a blind man warning us of ensuing gloom and a cheeky young lad scaring people by jumping out from behind barrels of supplies. They made magnificent use of all the existing wax work figures, dark places, supplies and weaponry which were already within the gatehouse museum; the atmosphere in the dark walls was absolutely perfect for the event.

After the troops have been rallied in the great hall of the Castle the lovers escape and the play finished with the amazing drama of canon fire, drum beats, and fight scenes up the Castle wall near the water gate. All of which was helped by battle cries and pyrotechnics along the outer walls of the Castle.

This was a superb performance by these talented young people, who had worked on rehearsals over the last few months, often in the middle of important school exam weeks. The performance was full of impact and made creative and innovative use of props and existing scenery. I loved the way the audience was encouraged to mingle with the actors, which gave a distinct feeling of them actually being part of the performance, which indeed we were. I’m not sure I quite managed to follow all of the intricacies of the plot, but you know that didn’t really seem to matter as everyone left the Castle that evening feeling like they had seen something rather special. Well I did anyway....

No comments: