Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Gripping Yarns at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter played host to a series of engaging and surprising performances the weekend before last (12th and 13th May), in collaboration with the Northcott Theatre and the Show of Strength Theatre Company, which went by the rather weak title of Gripping Yarns. Surprising in particular for those who didn’t know any such thing was going on, and came suddenly across a figure from history passionately wielding an English bible and entraining all to gather around, a fifties model posing haughtily on a pedestal, or a rampant, harrumphing nutjob in a moose outfit. The twelve stories which were played out across the day and in disparate parts of the building were a result of a writing workshop in which the participants were encouraged to choose a particular object from the permanent collections to spin a yarn from or base a character vignette around. Those considered most appropriate (to the space and to the members of the company) were adapted and worked up into monologues which would reflect on different aspects of the museum, and maybe make those watching see it a new light.

Stairway to the past, present and future
The various writers took a number of approaches, responding to the environment in different and sometimes surprising ways. Some conjured up ordinary people from the past, bringing to life the historical period as it might have been experienced on an everyday basis, and giving it a human face. Matthew Roberton’s A Civil War Helmet had a bearded (but not moustached) seventeenth century man gathering us around and addressing us as friend, firmly grasping his bible as he testified to his faith and his participation in the civil war. There was fierce pride in his voice as he pointed to the helmet, hung high on the wall, and told us that it was the one which he had worn during the siege of Taunton. The battle had been won, but now his son was joining up to take arms against James, whom our passionate friend believed would bring Catholicism back to the land. His voice wavered as he described how his other son had died in Holland fighting for William, who was now coming to the English shores, landing with his army at Brixham. Getting us all to testify with him, his monologue was a powerful and involving mix of the personal and the political. It underlined how deeply felt people’s religious beliefs were at the time, and how inextricably they were bound up with the unfolding course of history, of politics (and of course, if politics, then also economics). All of which resonates strongly with our own era.

Misericord, written by Yasmin Wilde, took place in the galleries forming a quadrangle above the café, where the Greek and Roman artefacts are displayed. A medieval artisan, coarse and loud-mouthed, leant over its balcony, her earthy, peasant presence anomalous amongst the relics of classical civilisation – a geographical, temporal and cultural miscegenation of the time streams. Like the old civil war militiaman, she too drew the attention of the crowd, although in her case this was more through insulting and intimidating them. The café below became imaginatively transformed into the front elevation of the cathedral, its colourfully tiled rear wall standing in for stained glass and painted stone. The old woman shouted down at some unfortunate enjoying a quiet coffee and piece of cake, telling them to shove off and find their own pitch in the open marketplace in the cathedral yard. Another member of the audience was called a basket case who’d gone blind from too much weaving for not recognising what her carving was. Its features were visible only to the eye of the imagination, however. What she actually grasped, along with her hooked carving knife, was a solid, unremarkable block of unworked wood. But her abrasive personality was also a loquacious one, and we were soon learning about the hidden meaning of her woodcarving. Hidden in the literal and figurative sense, given that misericords are the decorative undersides of the seats for the clergy in a cathedral. The carver related with great bitterness the ending of her affair with the philandering bishop, whom she discovered had been having his way with another woman (and perhaps more too), leaving her feeling used rather than special. Her depiction of a woman with a comb grooming another’s hair to remove nits was a way of reminding the bishop of what he’d given her. An insulting reference to his personal hygiene and an ironic rest for his ‘bum cheeks’, as she delighted in calling the high clerical behind. Her story was the age of old one of innocence lost in the face of the casual hypocrisy of those in positions of moral and political authority (the church encompassing both at the time). It also illustrated the inseparable intertwining of the sacred and the profane in people’s lives. Her misericord carving is a testament to the traces of anonymous individual artistry which can be found throughout British cathedrals and churches. These works, their meaning sometimes obscure, sometimes instantly comprehensible, express the character of their age, the inner lives of its ordinary people. And as with the civil war helmet, objects from the era which have survived have forgotten personal stories and feelings inherent in their substance. Coming across the misericord in the museum later in the day was a small revelation – so that’s what she was making, and that’s what she meant! The joke came into clear focus, the bishop put firmly into his place, and the nits (or lice) symbolically returned to a region impossible for a dignitary to scratch in public.

Here comes the equestrian statue - Major-General Sir Redvers Buller
Two stories took a humorous view of Victorian and Edwardian worthies, making buffoonish clowns of them. Literally so in the case of Penny For Your Thoughts and a Farthing for Mine by Joseph Loxton. This told of a playful, as related in court by a comical policeman in the Gilbert and Sullivan/Derek Guyler mould. An empty niche in the ethnographic gallery provided a platform for him to step up and give his evidence, pointedly referring to his regulation miniature top pocket notebook to more precisely outline certain of the far fetched facts, as scribbled down at the time. The spectre in question was a clown on a penny farthing bicycle, which, after leading the disgruntled copper on a merry chase through town, disappeared behind the large plinth bearing the equestrian statue of General Sir Redvers Buller. Apparently the old boy was keen on a spot of clowning when he wasn’t off leading his troops into battle in the Boer War. It’s an idiosyncratic aspect of his character which casts the stiff, verdigrised form with its plumed helmet and plumped out chest riding high on his horse in a rather less pompous light. The traffic cones with which he is perennially crowned now seem like an oddly appropriate tribute. The policeman’s vain pursuit of the elusive, mocking phantom neatly triangulated points of local geography, taking us from the costume shop on Fore Street, past the noisy weekend clubs and the central station to the clock tower and the statue on the junction at the crest of the steep hill leading down into the Exe valley. Further bizarre incidents were reported in the bobby’s strained formal diction, barely veiling his exasperation at the suspicion that this might all be some elaborate practical joke at his expense. Mysterious noises and vanishing food and drink at Downes House near Credition, the ancestral pile of the Buller family, suggested that here was a spirit still enjoying the finer things of life. The link between house and statue further keyed us in to the connections of people and place in local history and geography. Having given his disposition, the PC stepped down and moved awkwardly and stiffly off. It was all good, old fashioned fun.

As was Tiger Hunt, written by Bill Eaton, which took as its subject the specimen bagged by King George V in the late Edwardian era. The king himself was brought to glorious, blustering life, decked out in pith helmet, safari shirt and a sensible hunting trouser. He was first spotted (and heard) bellowing from the balcony, overlooking the animals and randomly assorted objects which jostle together in surreal juxtaposition. He descended the stairs, cursing his recalcitrant beaters all the while, and, upon finding his lookout spot amongst us, enjoining a young member of the audience to assist him in his tiger hunt. The pith helmet which this game chap was required to wear balanced awkwardly upon his head like a large fruit bowl. The piece made excellent use of the space, with the king crawling and ducking through the legs of the giraffe (the sainted bleedin’ ‘Gerald’ so beloved of the Exeter populace) and under those of the harpsichord, and peering between the tusks and trunk of the elephant. Big game shooting and the amassing of trophies was painted as the metaphorical equivalent to the posturing European politics of the time, as well as to the colonial rush for territory of the previous century. There were jeering references to ‘Cousin Willie’ or Kaiser Bill and his current ‘games’. The blithe indifference to wholesale slaughter and the constant, contemptuous entreaties to the beaters to ‘hold the line’ anticipated the massacres of the Western Front, in much the same way as did the game-shooting scene in Jean Renoir’s film La Regle du Jeu. Such underlying resonances aside, it was a very funny piece, with a great performance of sustained bluster and pomposity from David Reakes. It also slyly poked fun at the popularity of the animal displays, deflating the sentimentality attached to them by making their origins as big game trophies clear.

Animal magic - gallery of the stuffed
The animals themselves were given voice in two stories, the first of which again focussed on the stuffed specimens. Moose Talk, by Deborah January, drew our attention to a stuffed moose whose massive, heavily antlered form enjoys a disconcertingly elevated position surfing above the display cases on its platform, and easily missed as you pass by underneath. The actor who embodied the moose, Anthony Richards, was almost unrecognisable from the two quietly spoken characters he played in A Civil War Helmet and Vanishing. His face was daubed with brown face paint and his head topped with cloth antlers, a mouldering pelt mantled around his shoulders and a pair of alarmingly truncated briefs covering his moosely modesty. He was certainly not about to allow himself to be ignored. Before the performance, he draped himself across the balcony above the stairs, letting out the occasional harrumph, snort and shudder, before finally stirring into motion and mounting a step- ladder, gathering all around him. He was addressing us as the attendees at a meeting of STUFFED (I can’t remember the acronymic details), the organisation for stuffed museum animals, into which we were temporarily inducted members. Advice was given on matters of personal hygiene and deportment, and on the best ways to combat the inevitable decay and wear of the years. There was much absurd and bawdy humour, with a Carry On-style mining of double entendre potential from the word ‘stuffed’, and a selection of truly appalling moose-based puns (I’ll spare you the pain). Finally, we were all invited, nay required to join in the proud salute of the society – ‘stuffed and proud’ – which our chairmoose continued to repeat with vigour and volume for a surprisingly long time as he marched off down the stairs and through the corridors, startling and alarming a good few unsuspecting visitors along the way. There was something of a Night At the Museum air to the idea of exhibits coming to life after the doors had been locked at the end of the day. There was also a sense that this noisy and faintly unsavoury character was being used to mock the now rather aged beasts, questioning the continued prominence of their position in the museum some century or so after their demise.

Nkisi, by Su Bristow, was a tale of an African dog spirit, which inhabited a small carved figure in the ethnographic galleries. It was told in the enclosed square of the children’s area, a space within a space, walled off by surrounding display cabinets. This glassy retreat took on the hushed area of a sacred circle, the audience reduced to anticipatory silence some minutes before the storyteller put down the basket she was holding and began. The shaking of her rattle marked our transportation into the altered time of the story world, and she daubed her face with three ashen spots to allow herself to be inhabited by the dog spirit. Nkisi, who insisted that he was a ‘good dog’, told us of the time that he had followed the straying spirit of a sick little girl, lying in a fever in one of the village huts. She had been drawn towards a dark forest marking the boundaries of the otherworld, the land of death, by the enticements of a demonic spirit. A vibrating thunder drum drew us into this turbulent, shadowy realm. The dog persuaded her of the dangers of the forest, driving off the forces which would keep her there and leading her back to the village where her body lay, returning her from the brink of death. The celebratory ululations of the villagers were relayed through several galleries, a receding echo marking out imaginary distances. Just for a moment, we could have been gathered around a fire amongst mud and grass huts, on wide plains beneath expansive African stars. It was spellbinding storytelling, creating a sense of magical suspension, an entry into mythic time and space. The object in its glass case was brought to life and reclaimed its ritual purpose. At the end, it showed a sorrowful awareness of its current state, encased and enclosed, its power grounded. But it also saw into our souls, perceiving that, like the little girl, we were also lost and in need of guidance to find our way back.

Some stories marked the cultural shifts which the museum’s objects from local everyday life trace. Kick Off by Tim Sansom took a grandfather clock as its main imaginative prop. It was placed as a family heirloom which had stood sentinel in the living room for generations. A young man paced up and down in front of it, tensely aware of every second of the countdown to the start of the first England match in the European Championships, and vocally willing the time to pass. The clock became the passive, uncaring focus of his barely suppressed frustrations, which we sensed went deeper than an oft-thwarted desire for the England team to finally come good. There was an underlying air of a more pervasive disappointment, of a life drifting by and a building sense of despair at the growing awareness of this. His footballing heroes acted as surrogates offering vicarious excitement and the potential for feeling fulfilment and triumph. But there was an ‘it could have been me’ element to his fanaticism, which he voiced, an intense investment in the players which imbued them with his own unrealised, or never properly articulated dreams. The only time his flow of pent-up, fist-clenched ‘come on England’ energy subsided was when he compared the feeling of losing to a rejection from someone close to you. His momentary reflective silence spoke volumes, and hinted at a hidden and unhealed hurt. As he watches the seconds pass by, marked by the relentless swing of the pendulum he wills time to accelerate. He could be waiting for his own life to truly begin, for the advent of the significant event, the life-changing moment, the big break which would herald a new sense of purpose. The yearning for the brief blaze of the 1966 moment to ignite again is also suggestive of a wider social and national decline, of the country’s retreat into atomised division, the unity of the post war consensus long since rejected. ’66 begins to look less like the bright dawn of a new and triumphal era than the final sunset flare of the old. The football pitch, which would once have echoed its ideals, is now itself populated with unheroic representatives of the self interest and materialistic greed of the new society, our tense supporter divided by such a vast gulf of wealth from the players he is urging on that they effectively inhabit different worlds. The swiftly changing nature of the modern game was inadvertently demonstrated by the final line of the monologue. The bark of a dog, which the man had sworn to silence for the duration of the game, was heard off in the ‘stage wings’ behind some display cabinets. ‘Oi, Fabio’, he shouted, striding off with purposeful intent, possibly to kick the offending hound.

Posh Face, written by Marilyn Langridge-Jones, took place in a gallery in which a photographic exhibition was currently on display, and was about a model in the late 1950s or early 1960s preparing to pose for a fashion shoot. She is confident and knows how to use her charms, which she has had polished at the Lucy Clayton school in London. Being a working class girl from Yorkshire, she has had to learn how to put on an act in order to inveigle her way into the social scene of exclusive parties and events of ‘the season’, mingling with the debs and the scions of landed wealth. She views it all with an air of amused disdain, a necessary role which she has to play in order to get on. We see her in her relaxed down time, sprawling in a chair and letting her rounded Northern vowels roll around the gum she languorously chews. But she talks with real excitement of a new photographer just making a name of himself. His name is Bailey, and he shoots his young model protégé (Jean Shrimpton) in natural poses and casual everyday clothes in locations beyond the studio. She says the words rock and roll with relish, as if they were holy. The new music and attitude to style offer a release from the stifling rituals of the debutante balls and the class-ridden system of which they are such a rigid embodiment. There is an exciting intimation of change in the offing, heralding a world in which our model will no longer have to graduate from the Lucy Clayton, or any other school which aims to ‘polish’ girls into a uniform mould of mannered elegance. She will no longer have to put on a pose of aristocratic hauteur to further herself, but will be able to remain the natural, easeful self which we see and hear. Meanwhile, however, she must ascend her pedestal in the puffed out petticoats of her frock and strike an unnatural and uncomfortably statuesque pose, putting on her ‘posh face’.

Contemplative space - the ethnographic galleries
There were a number of stories which featured visitors to the museum, looking at the way in which such a public space can become a locus for personal histories, for moments of profound reflection or of small everyday epiphanies. These had the air of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues about them, offering an insight into the small dramas of ordinary lives, and by doing so, holding them up as being of equal importance to the grander stories of the famous or notorious. Free Thinking by Gill Barr was set in the ethnographic galleries, here depicted as a quiet, contemplative space, set apart from the world outside. Its varied objects, gathered from the far corners of the world, prompt the mind to break free from the routine and the familiar. It’s here that we come across a young woman sitting on a bench. She tells us that she has arrived here having passed between the fierce samurai guardian (a full suit of armour) and the serene, sitting Buddha statue, two balancing forces which greet the visitor – action and contemplation. She ruefully notes how the peace of these dimly lit halls is periodically broken by children (or adults) who away on the balafon – the African xylophone – which is the noisy price of modern museum ideas of interactivity. She has come to a place with which she is familiar in order to think through a difficult, wrenching choice: whether or not to marry her girlfriend. We act as witnesses and a collective sounding board for her vocalised thought processes. Her confession of doubts and concerns creates a sense of intimacy, as we are made privy to some private and very personal aspects of her inner life. In this moment of life-changing decision, she becomes touchingly vulnerable, her feelings rising to the surface where they become exposed to a painfully honest self-analysis. Her worries and reservations touch upon what might be lost in the increased equality gained through gay marriage. The sense of a different way of being, of alternative social possibilities and ways of living. Even the feeling of being special and apart, for so long a status forced upon people, of not being bound to accepted conservative norms. The young woman’s fears are embodied in her view of the line of African drummers. At first, she thought they were joined together as slaves, their sticks shackles, and failed to notice the drums set out before them. She then sees them as being locked into an imposed rhythm, mechanically reproducing what they have been told to play. It’s indicative of the way that objects in a museum, visited on a regular basis, become imbued with personal meaning, and come to mean different things to different people. A personal relationship with historical artefacts or works of art is established, and they become part of a particular, unique life. Making a conscious effort to see things from a different angle, she concedes that they may not be slaves to the rhythm of a master driving them to play at his command. They may be beating to the rhythm of a different drum, individual patterns conjoining to form a richer whole. In the end, the story comes to a romantic conclusion, and she decides that yes, she will marry her, as an expression of the love which she unreservedly feels. ‘You’re the first to know’, she tells us with breathless excitement, and exits with an emphatic roll on the balafon to joyfully underline her decision.

New Beginnings by Lori Hilson finds a woman in her late middle ages standing in front of the Roman mosaic which is affixed vertically to the wall like a fossilized tapestry. We catch her rehearsing in front of a full-length mirror, placed there for smaller visitors to see what they look like in the roman tunics and helmets provided. She notices us noticing her and explains what she’s doing. She is trying to perfect her patter to pass the test which will authorise her to become a guide. We get to know her as she chats garrulously on, occasionally reminding herself that she must ‘focus’. She’d worked in Woolworths for years, on the tills and stacking the shelves. Then it went bankrupt and she was made ‘redundant’; not a kind word to apply to a human being, as she ruefully observes, and a damaging one as far as her self-esteem was concerned. She talks about how her daughter had always come to the museum, and had gone on to university, and about how much she’d learned from her. Her English teacher always tells her to use a wider vocabulary, and to substitute words like ‘wonderful’ or ‘gorgeous’ rather than calling everything ‘nice’. She catches herself a few times during her conversation and adjusts her phraseology with conscious effort, as if visualising the removal of one word in her head and picking another to put in its place. Now she is having to get her mind around Latinate terms such as ‘tesserae’, the small tiles used in mosaics. After a few hesitant attempts, broken off for more friendly asides, her attention having a tendency to wander back to the surface associations buzzing around her busy brain, we finally get to hear her speech about the mosaics. She pulls it off, and is so pleased with herself. It’s a minor triumph, and we can see that it means a lot to her, that this is something which will give her pride in herself once more. Her story shows the way in which public museums (and libraries) can offer a way to rediscover the joy of learning, of becoming a part of something which might have been considered beyond the boundaries of their background, and of recovering a sense of self-esteem and worth.

The Vanishing, by Samantha Randall, had another older visitor engaging with the audience by asking them if they knew how to operate the camera on his phone. He’d just come in with a couple of bags of shopping, as if he’d just been to the high street. This immediately positioned the city centre museum as a place which could be a part of the everyday routine, rather than an imposing edifice of culture which necessitated a special, reverential trip. It could be somewhere to drop into to look at a particular room or object on the way back from the supermarket – mixing the sublime with the functional, the intellectual or aesthetic with the material as a matter of course. The Show of Strength Theatre Company would agree with this democratisation of cultural experience, having regularly taken their public performances out into the shopping centres and onto the streets. This particular shopper wanted to take a picture of a 1950s dress, which reminded him of his dancing days, when he swept the floor with his wife Elsie in his arms. It was the same style of dress she’d worn when they appeared on TV in Come Dancing back in the 1960s. they had danced to an old Gracie Fields number, which he now had as the ring tone on his mobile phone. But now Elsie was confined to a home, suffering from the fractured memory experienced by those with Alzheimer’s. She frequently retreated into the distances of her own inner world until there was an ‘ocean of quicksand’ between them. The old man revealed what was in one of his shopping bags: the material from which he intended to fashion a dress which would be the likeness of the one in the cabinet, or as near as he could manage. She would put it on, and they would dance to the sound of Gracie, and she would remember the days when they would glide across the ballroom. As he tells us this, he himself slips into reverie. As Gracie begins to sing, he steps in gracefully spinning circles, his arms cradling his imaginary partner, and a revolving glitterball scatters refracted shards of light to cocoon his dream dance. For a moment he becomes unselfconscious and completely transported, lost in the past. He recedes from us in a similar way to that in which his Elsie recedes from him, experiencing a similar fugue state which sweeps him away from the present. But he comes back, and is awkward and apologetic once more, a tired and weary old man. He is, however, firm in his resolve. He will learn how to become a dressmaker, and draw his Elsie back across the divide. It was a deeply moving piece, acted with touching hesitancy and sensitivity by Anthony Richards (similarly fine in the Civil War Helmet story). The museum can be a repository of very personal cultural memory, which is not always without accompanying pain, but which also has the potential for connecting the past with the present, and creating a sense of living continuity.

The mirror of eternity - manga robots and archived souls
There was one story which stood out from the others in that it located the museum itself as being a preserved exhibit from a distant past, and depicted a post human future in which the ‘archiving’ of human personality had become a possibility. This brought to mind the neglected, crumbling museum which the traveller comes across in the far future Earth of the Morlocks and Eloi in HG Wells’ The Time Machine. Actual Reality, by Annette Chown, had the idea embedded in its title that ‘reality’ now needed a qualifying adjective, distinguishing it from the various levels of virtual or constructed reality; soft, malleable forms of manufactured experience which were now regarded as having an equal or perhaps even greater validity. The piece took place in a ‘dead’ space of the museum, a featureless vestibule giving access to a pair of lift doors. These glid open to reveal a blank-faced woman with business-like clothing and a pink bob-cut wig. She was a robotic mannequin in the manga style, her downloaded personality programmed for corporate spiel. Her peddling of a dream life was accompanied by narcotised synth cues from her tablet computer, surrounding her outlining of the concept of an eternal ‘archived’ existence with a seductive cloud of synaesthetic perfume. Sounds of ambient drift wafting through from the geological and prehistorical gallery across the corridor also added to the atmosphere of unreal persuasion. Our guide informed us about the museum in whose lobby we waited. It was a simulacrum, offering ‘authentically’ real sensations for our hooked up minds, copies of which had been taken at the point of entry. For example, we could enjoy the genuinely synthesised taste and texture of coffee, a substance long since consigned to the past. We were told that our mental maps, downloaded and copied, were now the property of the Cameron Corporation. Our personalities, perhaps even our souls, were no longer in our possession, but had become corporate property, something which, in this airbrushed future, was evidently a long-accepted state of affairs. We had the option to have them stored, presumably with the potential for activation within bodies such as the one which was addressing us. It was something of a Faustian pact, the price of immortality being the signing over of one’s soul, as well as a large proportion of one’s wealth. The museum archives visible through glass panels in the wall behind us, rows of shelves with catalogued drawers and boxes, became the storage chambers for ranks of human memory, sensation and individualised personality. A futuristic, digitised version of the museum’s storehouse of experience, but made immaterial, stripped of its physical actuality, its concrete attachment to the past. And a museum which was now under corporate rather than public ownership. The history presented in such an incorporeal noplace, disconnected from any need to anchor its stories in the objective study of the real, would be malleable, subject to any revision or editing of the past which might suit the Corporation’s purposes. And the purposes of a corporation are always, in its very nature, the maximisation of the profit margin by any and all means necessary.

This was a dystopian future of a Huxleyan rather than Orwellian character, closer to the corporate society of happily doped drones depicted in Brave New World that to the brutalised, authoritarian bureaucracy of 1984. The satire might have seemed a little too explicit, with the naming of the overarching Corporation (perhaps by now one vast, singular entity) after David Cameron and the unveiling of previously archived personalities at the end via the illumination of photographs of Joanna Lumley, Bruce Forsyth, Richard Branson and the plasticised Joan Rivers rooting it a little too firmly and overemphatically in the present moment, with its cult of youth linked in with a drive towards total marketisation. Mind you, Huxley had his society venerating Henry Ford (‘Our Ford’) and by extension the idea of mass culture and manufacture, with the ‘T’ as their holy symbol. Cracks in the continuum of eternal being began to become apparent during the piece, however, with glitches and catches in the smooth sales talk of our glassy-eyed guide. Words and phrases were stuttered and repeated in a mechanical fashion, signs that the downloaded consciousness was degrading. The promise of digitised eternity turned out to be a false one. Even this virtual existence, which tried to eliminate the physical frailties of the real, was subject to entropic decay, to an inevitable running down. The use of the ‘dead space’ here was particularly effective, suggesting a bland and airless corporate future sealed off from the inconvenient processes and changeable environments of the natural world. The lift provided the perfect entrance and exit point for the robot guide. The actress playing the part, Alice Tatton-Brown, who also took on the very different roles of the characters in Posh Face and Free Thinking, carried it off with icy cool. She unhesitatingly incorporated a riposte to a comment from an audience member (‘would you like to be archived, sir’) and delivered her glitch-inflected, digitally skipping lines in a convincing fashion. With her stiff walk, subtly suggesting a doll-like robotic nature without pushing it into the territory of pantomime, she imbued the part with the unnerving and creepy quality always found in something mechanical taking on human appearances and characteristics. As she departed, the lift doors sliding shut on her fixed, dead smile, all that was needed was the sighing swoosh accompanying the operation of the doors in Star Trek (original series, of course). It was a wonderfully imaginative and amusingly disconcerting way to finish a day of varied, enjoyable and involving stories, marvellously acted by the four performers from the Show of Strength Theatre Company. It seemed to be a great success on this occasion, with an appreciable and appreciative audience, so let’s hope it’s an event which will be repeated in the future. There are many more tales still to be told.

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