Have just returned from a couple of days performing at the Ludlow Mediaeval Christmas Fayre based at the castle, and I am reminded of the tension between the academic/cerebral and the hedonistic/visceral approaches to life. These kind of events are populated by a wonderful mix of eccentric characters and also quite conservative types who happen to be attracted to eccentric activities. The event is huge, and hugely popular too. Any visitor to the castle on these days is swept along amongst a constantly moving crowd, past stall after stall of artefacts and food which give a strong impression of some imagined past times, helped by the costuming of all the stallholders and the absence of modern vehicles on site. Evocative music and strolling players add to the fun. One might stumble upon knights in armour staging mock battles, or a Fool playing with fire or lying on broken glass.
It is immersive and popular theatre without an Arts council grant. There are anomalies all around which become acceptable because visitors and performers are all part of the unwritten contract which says “we are all playing at believing in this”. The tale of Robin Hood is told ( brillliantly and hilariously by the way) via a radio mike. Electric spotlights light the stage when we come on to do our fake historical play.
Some tunes which sound traditional turn out to be written recently but in an old style. Nothing wrong with any of this…….it’s all in the right spirit.
Backstage is bonanza time for the photo-opportunity: maidens in their long gowns having a fag break, and knights with hamburgers. But the marvel of this event is that despite the inconsistency, the something of the essence of the times is evoked, and the overall effect is definitely one of having escaped down a time tunnel, leaving the multinational-driven high street culture behind
Re-enactors are a breed apart. Certainly they stand apart from the stall-holders trying to make a living and the professional performers. Millions of years of evolution have been followed by the recent rise of modern society-a mere blink of the eye in the earth’s history-and perhaps it’s not surprising that so many people feel they’ve been born in the wrong century. Saddled with 9 to 5 existences, lots of folk opt to spend their weekends dressed in garb from some chosen era which appeals, in this case Medieval times. They add great background colour to the proceedings, but are unlike the performers in that they don’t adopt characters but are, by and large, walking coathangers for costumes. What a strange and wonderful world this is! Look down and you might see sturdy modern walking boots beneath the sackcloth leggings. Mobile phones in the back pockets. After all, we are all capable of holding two opposing ideas in our heads at the same time. English eccentricity is alive and in Ludlow!