The Plaited Path
The Plaited Path in 1989 was my version of ‘Rapunzel’, and it turned out to be very popular with audiences. I worked on the show as a kind of Master of Ceremonies, which enabled me to direct the show from out front. The stage backdrop was divided into three areas – in the centre was the tower of the Witches Castle. Stage left there was a space representing Rapunzel’s cell. A balancing space stage right I shared with the musicians, Mary Plumb and Lisa Otter-Barry. In most of our previous shows I had been a performer, so we would have to bring in someone to direct the final stages of rehearsals. I was becoming increasingly concerned about this, feeling that despite everyones’ best efforts the shows didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted. Sometimes I worked with the musicians, cueing and playing percussion, but I still couldn’t ‘see’ the show properly from that position. The Plaited Path definitely benefited from me having an outside eye on the production. The show was given big boost by Anne Barber playing the Rapunzel role with real panache, Adam Strickson made a hilarious Witch, and Tim Bender her bumbling son. These last two were based on characters who waited on me at a bizarre restaurant in Toledo, Extremadura. Shortly afterwards I decided to stop performing altogether and concentrate fully on the writing, making and directing.
The 1990 touring show, The Wish, was yet another uncomfortable story. Like The Wheel it was based on a film that I had seen, though this time I did at least manage to catch the whole thing. It was an Indian movie in which a married but childless woman makes an offering at a shrine wishing for a child, though secretly she fears that her husband is impotent. The shrine happens to be right next to the village well. The villagers are experiencing constant failures of the water supplied by the well. A drought is threatened. Then a mysterious stranger arrives, and he persuades everyone that a smart pump mechanism will solve their water problems. Which it does, and they herald him as a saviour, lavishing gifts on him.
However he begins to charge for access to the water, and in this way he slowly gains control over the village. The touring set included a masterpiece of onstage plumbing created by Tim Bender, who created a working water-well. This contraption of pipes and pumps had to be fitted to the well as part of the narrative of the play. It was then used to pump water into various bottles and buckets as necessary. Part of the set can be seen in the photograph above.
Living in the truck
The Wish was also the first show we tried as part of a medium scale motorised show. It involved buying a large truck which would work as a sleeping space for the cast. It was nicely painted with a huge half-human, half-horse head on the sides. The plan was helped enormously by working with Gary Hill as our technician and Mafalda da Camara as a performer. Gary and Maf came with their young son Manny and their own Mercedes live-in van. In addition we had Brad Harley, from Bread and Puppet Theatre. Brad had met Anne Barber on her sabbatical with the US company in Vermont the previous year. They later married and eventually went to live on Toronto Island, where they established ‘Shadowland Theatre‘.
The experiment didn’t survive that first motor tour. The on-board accommodation turned out to be far too cold and uncomfortable in all sorts of ways. On top of that the new truck was slow and cumbersome, especially when navigating narrow county lanes – and it just happened that much of the tour took place in Cornwall.
The Flood (above) in 1991 was the first show in which I didn’t perform at all, and I was able to direct with my full attention. I decided on a poetic and disjointed story-line, based loosely on bible stories. It was an odd show; one of my personal favourites. There were four scenes. In the first, the Warning, a Carpenter is told of a forthcoming deluge by a stove-pipe hatted delegation. They try and explain the seriousness of the situation. But he refuses to listen to his warnings, and goes back to bed. In the second, the Search, the Carpenter sees the drowning people. He builds a boat to find Rain. After an epic journey he finds her, in her Forest. In the third scene, animals appear out of the Forest, fleeing from the rising waters, and he ends up with a Noah’s Ark-like cargo. The animals squabble, then begin to fight, and they sink the boat. Finally, in The Story of Hope, or The Rumour, crowds of figures appear, seeming to move at random. Then a small boat appears, holding a new-born baby. The crowd of figures gradually begin to move together. They look one way, and then the other. Finally they gently blow and sway together… their breath slowly blows the child to safety. The music for this show, by John Moreton and Keith Bray was particularly memorable. I chose the track ‘Sailing Away’ as music to be played at my father’s funeral.
Another important decision we took at this time was to integrate our tours. Once the summer horse-drawn tour ended we continued to tour the same show, but now using our van. The abortive experiment with the truck as part of The Wish tour was a pre-cursor to this. But in abandoning the attempt at sleeping in vehicles, the Travelodge necessarily became a friend. In the case of The Flood it meant the tour could continue until the end of November, and play as many as 60 venues.The motorised tour of The Flood involved a further 34 performances once the horses had been put back in their field. This routine then became the norm for the company.
PLAITED PATH: BOB FRITH (wr/dir), ELE WOOD (h), ANNE BARBER, TIM BENDER, TIM PETTER (m), ADAM STRICKSON, DAVE KING (m), MARY PLUMB (m), JO KING, LISA OTTER-BARRY, SARAH FRANGLETON
WISH: BOB FRITH (wr/dir), DAVE KING (m), TIM PETTER (m), MARY PLUMB (m), MOIRA HIRST (h), SARAH FRANGLETON, JO KING, ANDREW PURVIN, MARK BROWN, TIM BENDER, ELE WOOD (h). MOTORISED:GARY HILL, MAFALDA DA CAMARA, KEITH BRAY (m), BRAD HARLEY, JO KING, ANNE BARBER, SARAH FRANGLETON, DAVE KING (m).
FLOOD: BOB FRITH (wr/dir), JO KING, CHRISTY EVANS, GARY HILL, SAM PAECHTER, JO POCOCK, ELE WOOD (h), SARAH FRANGLETON, JOHN MORETON (m and admin), KEITH BRAY (m), MINTY DONALD, NICK MILLAR, ANNE BARBER, JILL PENNY, BARRY LEE (h).