Rudes Thrill with Macbyrd

Thursday 23rd June was a memorable day in Rowledge, not just because of the EU referendum, but it marked the third visit to the village by the outdoor commedia dell’arte theatre company, The Rude Mechanicals.

Yet again, the British “summer “ weather was in short supply, but the show went ahead outdoors, under threatening skies. There was a brief downpour, which halted proceedings, but it soon passed over and the rest of the performance continued uninterrupted to the loyal crowd, who had turned out out such an unpredictable evening.

This years’ play - Macbyrd (another original creation by the company’s founder and director Pete Talbot) - took the theme of social change in 1940 within a small English village, with a parallel bird community.

The play is “narrated” by the gypsy magpies, whose leader is Macbyrd. He observes a disquieting change in the surroundings and within the village and its residents, as the war comes ever closer to upsetting the equilibrium of their peaceful habitat. Despite the ominous start to the play - a commentary on uncertainty, as the social order, those in power and “how things have always been” discover they must adapt to the times - in comes the humour, with references to the WI, a village flower show, the cricket team and where they will be able to play, the am dram society and more, which was greeted by much chuckling by the audience, as they recognised the nuances of the community groups, or perhaps, even themselves! These were familiar village issues that everyone could relate to and had the audience chortling.

As ever, the Rude’s costumes were simple and effective, with much conveyed by the creativity of the wigs and the colours of the costumes. The accents and commedia dell’arte movements were fascinating characterisations, particularly within the bird kingdom. There were ravens, two swans (gloriously imperious), a goose - the bureaucrat, a heron, magpies, a pigeon inspector, two busybody coot sisters (who were a joy to watch), a downtrodden ordinary wren and two sparrows trying to make a home for their family. Of particular note was the immigrant Indian bushlark blown off course, an unexpected immigrant looking for a home, who observed the world in which he found himself and gave an impressive discourse on peace.

This play addressed human nature, its desire for a “settled, equitable society” without too much change, but it addressed social order, the class system and its hierarchy. It explored who is the “enemy” that threatens security of habit and “home” and how “Oomans” addressed their moral and social boundaries, as they faced those changes. Thoroughly up to date theatre in action!

Nora Tarrant