November workshop by Kathleen Croft
The Workshop brief:
Space: Park, garden, games field, room, or some area best suited to yourself!
Object within that space: Swing, goalpost, tree, or any inanimate object of your choice!
Explore how this space and object can develop a static character simply by interacting with the space and object.
No Conversation. Only an occasional aside from or to your character!
SPACE by Kath
Hanging from the crossbar, he surveys the remnants of an old park playground. The swings and slides are no longer usable, not even the hobbyhorse, a solid lump of cast iron, is usable. He throws his feet up onto the cross bar and hangs, monkey like, from all four limbs. He feels the sinews in his upper arm stretch and he flexes the muscles in imitation of Mr Atlas, the worlds strongest man. Letting one arm drop towards the ground, he considers hanging by just his feet, then realizing he is wearing the new socks his mother has just scraped enough wool together to knit for him, he changes his mind and looks toward the blue sky. Small white clouds sit like daisies in a blue field and in his mind he sees them as pretty as the daisies in the grass at the bottom edge of the playground. Little Maggie used to sit there and make daisy chains. He grasps both hands onto the cross bar and considers the two remaining dangling legs of what was once a long swing. Long enough for three children to sit either side, holding tightly to those same legs, whilst two older child would sit on the saddle seats at the back trying to make it swing. It always needed a parent to gently push when no one was looking. Those arms were now rusted and rotted, hanging like dead men’s footless legs.
Climbing down trying not to snag his new socks, he scratched his knee, the blood ran down and he hastily rolled sock down to his ankle. By the side of the dew pool, he gathered a little moss and washed his knee free of the rust and blood. They said his father had cleaned the soldiers with moss, for awhile, but then there was only mud!
He walked the long way home, across the moor. He didn’t want to see the others, they had nothing but coarseness and he didn’t need that, not now.
RUIN AT EDLINGHAM CASTLE by Owen
At the end of our weekend away, we came upon Edlingham Castle. We’d passed by the English Heritage sign a few times but it took us till Sunday to visit the glorious ruin.
Arriving at the main stone path, I realised that this encompassed the full castle grounds. Passing between the stubby walls of the barbican, I saw her reach out and run her fingers across the top, scattering gravel dust. I didn’t remark on this. We were the only ones on-site.
I shielded my eyes from the sun as I doubled back on the information panel. She kept walking through the courtyard, pulling out her camera. Apparently Edlingham Castle began life as a normal residence, later fortified as the English meddled with Scottish royalty. Three hundred years of social disruption, outright destruction and border raiding. Glancing up, I saw her skid over stray pebbles.
She was snapping photos of what remained of the solar tower. You couldn’t see much front-on but I knew she was testing how light moved through the windows and around the full height of the roofless structure. While she sidestepped around it in a careful circle, I settled among what the panel called ‘the lodgings’. One of the corners had been eroded just wide enough for me to sit in.
The view it afforded was, of course, a stretch of scattered aged stone but I enjoyed the way the midsummer light brought out the white among the grey. I searched around for other visitors but noticed only Red Angus cows nudging each other away from wire fences. As I sat there alone, I shut my eyes and focused on the sharp proximity of hewn brick around my lightly shivering knees. I quietened my breath long enough hear the wind rustle past. For a moment I couldn’t even hear cars zip by on the motorway ahead.
At last I blinked till I could perceive the faint blue of the sky above. The occasional cloud that curled and uncurled overhead cast brief shadows on the kitchen range to the east. I wondered how soon this would darken me.
Hoisting myself out of the gap, I crossed the weedy courtyard to move anticlockwise around the sun tower. The intention was to catch her out, maybe startle at the moment of an ideal shot. Still I was distracted by the thin section of messy brickwork on my side of the tower. A small red amassment of rough curved stones wedged between smooth yellowed rectangles. The design, if that was indeed what it was, baffled me so much that I had to reach out and check that the jutting rocks weren’t actually movable. Fortunately for me and British History, they remained firm.
Then I broke away from it all and was halfway round the tower before I saw her. She was leaning at roughly the same angle as the left wall was coming away from the rest. The way she lined up her shot, it seemed she was most interested in the black metal bars that were keeping the walls joined together. These were high overhead and I felt a shortness of breath as I imagined everything tumbling on both of us.
At last she saw me. We exchanged nervous smiles. Pointing my thumb over my shoulder, I led her to a bench that was in the middle of the tower’s southern wall. She put away her camera and joined me in sitting with our backs to the makeshift fortress. Holding hands, it felt like we were propping up the whole structure on our tired lonely shoulders.
THE READING DESK by Judy
Only days earlier, the fencing class had practiced their parries and lunges, shouted their En Garde! Pret? Allez followed bytheir stamping legs like loud thunderclaps. Staccato and sudden, their feet had bounced up the dust from the floor into the air, to mingle with the cloying, sweet smell of their sweat emanating from their padded groins and armpits.
In the afternoon, the floral scents of those attending the Deportment Class had wafted into the same corners as they paused then pirouetted on their dainty heels, some chided by Madame for their haste, others, her favourites, feted with her treacly appreciation and praise. In the far corner of that large room, Miss Prudence Smith of Birkby with her over-fleshy shoulders and dark, heavy chin, stood alone, wincing at the pain of the blisters on her bulbous toes at the end of her rather manly feet.
Earlier that summer, the curious and the amateur scientific had sat and contemplated the words of the Phrenologists, most leaving the Hall with heads that ached and suddenly felt too heavy for their shoulders to bear on their journey home.
And less than twelve months before that, Professor Le Blanc, Proprietor of the Gymnasium Hall, had brought to the town, for the wonder and delight of the populace, the smallest man in the world, General Tom Thumb. Standing barely one metre tall, he had risen to appear larger than life in his portrayal of various characters – Napoleon, Frederick the Great, a Highlander. On those nights the large space had filled with the inquisitive as well as the morbidly voyeuristic, all craning their necks to see for themselves, the little man who could boast that he had already performed for the Queen on three occasions and was under the patronage of her Majesty, the Royal Family and the principal Crowned Heads of Europe.
Wednesday 8 September 1858, 7.30pm. Distant voices off, a door shutting, the noise echoing around the empty Hall. The gas jets hissed inside the lights which were focused by tin reflectors on to a dark backcloth so that the torso, arms, hands and face of that evening’s performer would be unobstructed.
A narrow table had already been placed at the front of this the biggest and best room in the Gymnasium. At no more than three feet in height and two feet wide, this desk (as it was referred to by the man who had designed it to suit his performance) was topped by a shelf covered in greeny-grey chenille and edged with fringing of the same colour. It had one lower shelf which was a leg brace but those sat at the front would later notice that it had scuff marks on its front edge where the man would lean and rest his leg during the reading. On top of the desk, was a book block also covered in chenille with the same bullion fringing encircling its four sides. A carafe and glass stood ready to fortify the Speaker on a shelf at a lower level, designed to be safely out of the way of any sudden and wild movements which the Reader was prone to make in the pursuance of his tale.
Fifteen minutes before the appointed time. The doors on to the pavement of Ramsden Street were open. As the minutes went by, there was a rising crescendo of voices, footsteps and rustling coats sweeping the floor. Tickets were held aloft in gloved hands, five shillings, two and six, one shilling for the Gallery. Fathers ushered their families through the lobby and towards the Hall to take up their seats as the hour approached.
Eight o clock prompt. He entered without announcement, acknowledged the applause that burst forth when they realised it was indeed him. In clothes a little flamboyant for Huddersfield tastes, they looked at his richly coloured waistcoat, a gold chain glinting in the stage lights, his rather oversized tie and the bright red carnation in his lapel. Lifting his eyes, he briefly scanned the many rows of seats and then reached forward to put down the neatly bound book from which they had expected him to read. He sensed their alarm with satisfaction. How could he read the story if it was not open at the correct page? Within seconds any doubts disappeared as his voice, rich and clear, started at the beginning of that story which was so familiar to them all and for which he knew every word.
Marley was dead. The deep tone of the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge reverberated across the desk. Here was that very same grasping, covetous, old sinner they all knew. Above the desk, with his shoulders hunched, his face became that of the moneylender as he drew an imaginary muffler around his neck and shuddered at the cold, bleak and biting weather of that Christmas Eve. In Scrooge’s sonorous tones the Reader dismissed the nephew’s views on Christmas and the audience watched as the Reader’s jowls wobbled as he pronounced his ‘Bah, Humbug’ and around the top of the desk, the ornate fringing shook in agreement with that sentiment. Then, gripping the sides of the table, his eyes flashed wide in terror and he crouched forward and recounted the image of the ghostly apparition of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley in the door knocker that ‘bad lobster in a dark cellar’.
With an expression of dread and in a voice like a spiritual medium the Reader leaned into the Hall and foretold that three spirits would visit Scrooge on three consecutive nights.
First, he took them to Christmas Past and with his legs tripping in a dance around the four wooden legs, Scrooge remembered joining the festivities with his old employer Mr Fezziwig at a Christmas time long gone and then in a different mood, brought to life the sad scene of a young woman for whom he had once had some affection, his gestures and expression conveying his sadness at the memory.
Then, to Christmas Present and the Reader’s eyes moved to the ceiling as he described the mistletoe the holly and the greenery that decked the houses and the streets. He stood upright against his only prop and breathed in deeply the smell of the roasting meat and the sizzling chestnuts popping in the fires and the rich aroma of fruit cakes and bowls of rum. He spread wide his arms beyond the surface of the desk at the images of vast tables of plenty spread before them. In a lighter tone he painted the scene at the poor home of Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit. He picked up the knife from the desk and plunged it into an imaginary goose and told them of the gush of stuffing that arose through the incision. With his forefinger, he pointed to each member of the Cratchit family as they eagerly sat around their table and his eyes followed the arrival of their Christmas Pudding like a speckled cannon ball, so hard and firm and alight with brandy that many in the audience thought they could see it steaming in front of them on top of the desk. And when it came to him telling them of Bob Cratchit’s insistence on raising his glass to his employer, he used the glass which they knew held only water, but for that moment was as if full of port in his clerk’s hand. But for all the joy of Christmas Day of which Scrooge wanted no part, it was to Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit’s sick, young boy, that the Reader turned a sorrowful eye as the ghost of Christmas Present left the room to be replaced by the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
In a voice for each of the characters so that there was never any doubt in the audience which character they could see and hear, they witnessed the funeral of Ebenezer Scrooge himself, the voices of the disinterested group of businessmen unaffected by the passing of one with whom they had regularly done business. One man even uttered a bored yawn with the news of Scrooge’s demise and the Reader did the same, conveying to the audience the spirit’s message that this man would not be mourned unless there was some change in his heartless character.
Dwelling in the future, the Reader once again became Bob Cratchit visiting the grave of Tiny Tim and his voice broke and his eyes filled with tears at such sorrow. Pointing downwards, the audience believed for a moment that they could see the tiny grave as if only feet away, under the bottom shelf of the desk.
In fear and overcome with remorse, Scrooge’s heart lifted. At each voice, a different tone had been heard. By the time they had been transported to a Christmas Yet To Come, the eager generosity of the reformed character, his attempts at kindness and excitement at the prospect of becoming generous and loved by others had seized the hearts of the audience. The moneylender was transformed and the Reader eagerly embraced the real future with a final entreaty and smile asking God to ‘Bless us, everyone.’ The Reader, Author, Actor smiled, the audience clapped and clapped, some still brushing away the tears that had coursed down their cheeks.
It was way past ten o clock on that September evening but it could so easily have been Christmas Eve with the snow lying outside on the pavements and the smell of roasting chestnuts drifting along the Huddersfield streets. Tomorrow night would be Wakefield, then York, then Harrogate. He took his last bow standing by the desk that had played its own part in his ghostly story and then stepped out of the limelight and back into the wings where he was swallowed into the darkness of the backstage at the Gymnasium Hall.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these pieces from our workshop. Stay tuned for all our antics in 2021!