Entrances: field and pavilion

Here’s the final blog post in the series of staging questions that the research team have been mulling over. This one concerns where characters may enter and exit from in our production.

Due to practicalities of performance the set has now been modified and, as it stands, the audience will still be enclosed within a ’round’ but the majority of the action will occur end-on. Here’s a sneak preview for you:


While the classical ‘in-the-round’ configuration with a central stage has been altered therefore, the form largely remains, and this raises issues of where the characters both enter and exit from. Do they come from behind the end-on stage – appearing before the audience – or are we still able to use the ‘field’ as an route to the stage – so that characters come through them? Below is the research team’s response to the director’s question: ‘Do the characters make their first entrance from the ‘field’. And Rex specifically – where does he enter from at the beginning of Part 1?’

Greg Walker – I think it matters where people come on from, as it indicates who and what level of society they are from. Those who come seemingly from out of the crowd, like John or Pauper, or the sowtar and tailor and their wives are reps of the people. Others clearly come TO the crowd and platea from outside – from outwith Scotland, whether villains like the Pardoner, or Flattery, or virtuous figures like Good Counsel, Verity, Correction, etc. Shouldn’t Rex emerge from out of his seat (as it were). He’s not from us – we don’t elect him or have a choice of who gets to be king. It’s decided for us by the powers that be.

Tom Betteridge – I think if characters come from outside Scotland they need to come through the field / audience – the only two places that people can enter are effectively from the field or from the court. As Diligence says when Pauper enters, ‘Quhair have wee gottin this gudly companyeoun? Swyith out of the field, – Pauper is a companion who has entered the world of the play from the field – but note that field is not a non-performing area – rather it is one that can be part of the ‘stage’ and at the same time it is the stage’s border or enabling frame. The characters who should not come from the field are, as Greg suggests, Rex but also the other courtly characters – I don’t think Diligence should come from the field since, I would suggest, part of his weakness is that he lacks the authority implicitly given to those characters who can come from the field but transgress its limitations – i.e. Divine Correction and John the Commonwealth.

Ellie Rycroft – I agree with the above, especially that Rex shouldn’t come through the field, but I think the fact that members ‘ride’ into parliament complicates things to an extent. I think there’s something compelling about the display of the parliament during the riding – it’s as if they are saying ‘you can see us, we’re off to do something important, but you’re not allowed to see what’, fully materialised when the Lyon King fences the space off. See images of parliamentary processions below.

parliamentary procession
parliamentary procession 2

John McGavin – I agree with the above. Some characters definitely do not come in through the audience. I do not see Diligence as coming through the audience: he can talk to them up close but he is a higher man’s functionary. Others definitely do. Some actions, however, are intended to be spectacular; they are public theatricality within theatre, and they constitute one of those elements of 16th century drama where the drama self-reflexively stages its own essential foundations – like the thematic use of disguise and impersonation or the moral staging of emblematic tableaux (such as the king and ladies lolling about in the first part described by Verity). This is an instance where the drama gives special force to the notion of watching: spectating becomes ‘witnessing’ in the sense of bearing witness. Although Ellie’s image do not depict the crowd, we as lookers at the image are part of that crowd. Wherever the thrie estaitis come from (the palyeon) on their way to the parliament, their proximity to the people en passant is vital – they are coming backward ‘throw this toun’. James was later to ‘stage’ the nobles in a banquet at the Cross precisely so that the people could act as witnesses to it and so put the nobles under the pressure of public scrutiny and public memory. I would be inclined to start Part Two with Diligence announcing the thrie estaitis and getting the spectators to rise and take their hats off. The surprising entry from the pavilion of the backward estates would then be a shocking blow to the spectators who had been prepared to honour this event.

Sarah Carpenter – I suppose I’d assumed that ‘courtly’ characters – king, three estates etc – come from the ‘pal3eoun’ when they need to ‘enter’. That’s formally stated for the three estates at the beginning of act 2, but I can’t see where else the king would exit to (or therefore enter from). There are some characters who specifically seem to need to come from the audience, people like John the Commonwealth, the tradespeople, some of the vices. And they often are said to come ‘through the water’, which might suggest from the audience side of the platea? Although in fact some of them are said at times to ‘pas to the palyeoun’, like the Taylor’s wife at 1395. It seems important to be able to signify characters who come from ‘abroad’ as different from either of these groups. But they often establish this themselves through their entrance speeches, wherever they arrive from physically.

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Jamie Stuart, the original Sandy Solace, on Tyrone Guthrie’s production

I was absolutely honoured to interview the original Sandy Solace from Tyrone Guthrie’s famous 1948 production of A Satire of The Three Estates the other day.  A true moment of oral history that speaks for itself, and does so in a “richt merry voice”. Jamie Stuart, what a character.



Jamie Reid-Baxter on ‘A Satire of the Three Estates’

Jamie Reid-Baxter, the early theatre and Scottish literature expert, discusses his previous experience of working on productions of A Satire of the Three Estates, focusing on his part of Folly, a character who was cut out of the famous Edinburgh University productions. Jamie says that that this was wholly wrong, as he serves as the “mirror image of Diligence in the play” suggesting that “both Diligence and Folly are David Lindsay’s alter egos”.

Jamie speaks about his excitement at a full, unedited version being performed in June, particularly the political urgency of the piece that will be revealed as a result.  He also discusses the “fundamental” place Lindsay holds in the Scottish canon, in that his work looks both backwards and forwards.  As a former translator at the European Parliament, Jamie helpfully discusses the dramatic appeal of the Middle Scots tongue, talking about the “roughness of Scots, the Germanic side of Scots, what you call in France the terrien, the clods of earth, the earthiness of it… but also the grandeur of those harsher consonants and pure vowel sounds”.  Reid-Baxter finishes by putting Lindsay in the literary tradition of William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas, Alexander Scott and Alexander Montgomerie, saying his work can “shed light right across the canon”, but is also innovative, discussing how Lindsay extends the Scottish tradition of flyting in this play.

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Reading of the 1540 Interlude at the Traverse 5/4/13

The first reading of the Interlude went exceptionally well yesterday, with the audience particularly interested in our staging of the metadrama of James V and Gavin Dunbar, the Bishop of Glasgow whom James ordered to “reform your factions and manners of living” at the end of the 1540 performance.  Questions from an excellently informed audience included whether the actors felt the tension of performing to a ‘King’ and the audience/court during the reading.  Gregory Thompson explained that this is the real paradox of historical theatre research; we can reconstruct texts, spaces, costumes and sets, but we can never recreate a sixteenth-century audience.

The process of working on the reconstructed version of the 1540 play in performance was incredibly useful. The research team felt they learned more in two days of working with actors on the text than weeks of discussion might reveal, highlighting the importance of practice-based research methods. Below are a few photos from the reading as well as a cast list – we were of course incredibly fortunate to be working with such a distinguished roll call of both established and emerging Scottish actors.

1. SIR WILLIAM EURE.   Alison Peebles
2. KING JAMES V.   James Mackenzie
4. SOLACE.  Callum Cuthbertson
5. THE KING.   Finn den Hertog
6. TEMPORALITY.   Peter Kenny
7. SPIRITUALITY.   Tom McGovern
8. BURGESS.    Michael Daviot
9. EXPERIENCE.   Gerry Mulgrew
10. POOR MAN.   Tam Dean Burn

James V among his 'court' Greg Thompson gives an introduction Spirituality gets angry The Parliament Poor Man petition  Parliament Temporality rebukes Spirituality Sir William Eure The audience arrives

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Haggis Hunting: 50 Years of New Playwrighting – day 1

Tomorrow our reconstruction of the 1540 Interlude will get it’s first airing at Edinburgh University’s Haggis Hunting: 50 Years of New Playwrighting conference taking place at the Traverse theatre:


Rehearsals started today with a stellar cast of Scottish actors including Tam Dean Burn, Gerry Mulgrew and Alison Peebles.  Our version is composed of a dramatic arrangement of  the historic documents concerning this lost play, excerpts from the 1552/4 play that relate to the description found in William Eure’s letter to Cromwell, as well as new writing which contextualises the various historic figures and events behind the performance.  Eure, for instance, explains that he is “Governor of Berwick, but I was Deputy Warden of the East March until James V replaced me with a Scot.”  I’m particularly pleased that some compelling historical detail uncovered by Greg Walker has made it into the play when Solace explains to the audience:

Interestingly there was a time, when James was a child, when these three men shared a bedroom.  The boy king, James V, and his tutors, his guardians, Lindsay and Dunbar, sleeping together peacefully, and now they’re governing Scotland.

Dunbar is the Archbishop of Glasgow berated by James V following the performance of 1540.  It’s one of those strange moments which reveals just how small the Scottish political centre was.

I will be playing the Scribe in the reading – the documenter of the political process; a role with affiliations to the documenting I’m undertaking during the project.  In fact, at this very moment, the actors are tackling the script for the second time today…

Come along to the reading if you can! Tickets are £6 or £4 and can be obtained by following the link above or calling the box office on 0131 228 1404.



Where does Diligence speak from?

Középkori színház

Building on our discussions about locus and platea staging (see blog post dated 18th March below), the next question the team considered was where Diligence speaks from.  Is he a platea character – on the threshold of performance and situated in the liminal space between spectator and actor – or is he a locus character and ensconced in the action?  Diligence is a character who performs important functions in the play such as proclaiming the parliament, keeping the parliamentary space clear of undesirables such as the Pauper, and bringing in others such as John the Commonweal.  Here’s what the team thought of his spatial relationship with audience and actors in performance, a subject on which they were largely in agreement:

Where does Diligence Speak From?

Greg Walker – Isn’t he pretty mobile – a creature of the acting space as a whole? When he speaks for the king or the estates, I guess he is in parliament, but when he speaks to the audience as the voice of the play, he can be anywhere, locus or platea. When he reads the acts he comes from parliament to the platea, as he is ‘crying’ the acts to the nation at large.

Tom Betteridge – at the opening of part 2 Diligence tells the audience, ‘Famous peopill, tak tent and ye sall se’ – here he speaks as a master of ceremonies / chorus figure – his response to the Pauper, however, suggests he also has a role of policing the performance space. I think that he is a figure for Lyndsay in the play but it is also important that he lacks the power / authority of Divine Correction or the insight of John the Commonwealth ( or indeed in a different way Pauper ) – Diligence at one level is an Everyman figure since his engagement with what is happening on stage does not got ahead of the action – i.e. he seems a part of the process of reform / critique not something sitting above or in judgement to the world of the play.

Ellie Rycroft – Diligence is a perfect example of a platea type character in his movement between the world of the play, and the play in the world, so it depends where we site the platea in a sense.  At the same time, the Lyon King sat at the feet of the King in parliament so, if we do envision him as a Lindsay figure (and the herald costume Hilary is proposing heads in this direction – although the image we have is of a much lower status than Lindsay/Lyon King), we need to show where his allegiances are even if he does not sit in judgement on what occurs during the play.  I think it is interesting that one of the Lyon King’s functions, after the members has ‘ridden’ or processed into parliament, was to ‘fence’ the parliament off, so that he sets the boundary of the space, policing it, as Tom said.

John McGavin – All the above seem right to me: mobility; multiple, shifting functions, and a ‘functionary’ in both social and theatrical terms. In my view, Diligence is the means by which you can define the separateness of court-parliament and people wherever they are located (question 1); it’s his movement across the total playing space which marks the divisions between the different loci.

Sarah Carpenter – yes.  Though in fact in the text Diligence doesn’t do the fencing himself but calls on the ‘Dampster’ to do it (2396).  The script doesn’t give the Dampster any words to do it, though.  It just says ‘Thay ar set doun’.  I feel, like Ellie, that Diligence is a character who more than any other can move between loci and platea, and can establish which is which simply by his demeanour.  After all, these spaces are themselves fluid?

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