Someone said to me in passing that all our shows were very serious. Then they went on to say that they were edgy and sinister. I laughed at the idea; said that it wasn’t strictly true because even the darkest shows had a lot of light in them. But the thought must have played on my mind. Soon afterwards I decided I had to write a show that was going to be brilliantly funny, silly even, and wildly entertaining.
I had discovered a shop in Edinburgh called Azteca. It imported Mexican folk art; amazing colourful objects at what I thought were reasonable prices. I bought some papier-mache carnival masks, cheap tin images, and a beautiful ceramic Tree of Life. Investigating the background to these it wasn’t long before I came across the name of Jose Guadalupe Posada. He was the illustrator whose woodcuts have become the template for many Mexican folk images. Even today, long after his death, his imagery is vastly popular in Mexico. They provide much of the visual backdrop for The Day of The Dead.
The idea came to me to write a story that imagined Posada’s soul returning on All Souls Day – The Day of the Dead. I pictured that he would launch into an epic tussle with the Devil in front of our eyes. It would be a kind of Mexican Tom and Jerry, involving giant mousetraps, huge mallets, explosions and all sorts of surreal mayhem. Throughout, the source of the imagery we used would, wherever possible, be taken from Posada’s own work. In the last scene Posada and the Devil drink pulque together. They become gradually more inebriated and slowly melt into each others arms. The Day of the Dead comes to its end, at least until the next year. In other words, it would absolutely be A Strange (& Unexpected) Event!
I decided that we should tour with our own raised stage. This way we could create an underworld from which both Posada and the Devil would emerge by trapdoor. Of course this also meant a big job setting it up at every venue, as the staging sections each weighed a ton. We put together a great group of musicians – Loz Kaye, Stu Barker (who went on to create the music for many Kneehigh shows), Mary Keith, Claire Ingleheart, who doubled as performers. They formed a strong core to build the show around – and we were further helped by having Brad Harley with us on placement from Bread and Puppet Theatre in Vermont. We toured the show with a team that was eleven strong.
The show was a riot, and it went down well everywhere. The devil was an unforgettable character, particularly popular with audiences. Over the tours it was played by three very different performers – Mafalda da Camera, Nicky Fearn, Ursula Burns. Each gave it their own brilliant interpretation. In each case the Devil was a big hit. A fitting rival to Posada himself (played by Brad Harley, and later Jo King).
The tour started in May, in Kent, then travelled in mid-June to the North-East. It remains one of our most popular shows, and we decided to keep it going the next year for our first tours both of the Netherlands and Hungary. In 1993 we walked from the Ukrainian border, travelling south and skirting Debrecen before finishing the tour close to Kecskemét. Here we met the animator and film-maker Péter Szoboszlay from Kecskemét Film Studio. Péter enjoyed both our show and our company. He arranged for a small film crew to follow us, on and off, for the next two years. They came to England and filmed at our base in Rossendale, as well as in Westminster Abbey. Péter and his wife Ilona became close friends. His partly animated documentary film about the company – ‘Maszkok, lovak, szekerek’ (Masks, carts, horses) – is a lovely and unique record of those years and is still a favourite.
“Horse + Bamboo Theatre played to packed and appreciative audiences…an outstandingly creative performance…remarkable production of ‘A Strange (and Unexpected) Event – the Life and Death of J.G.Posada’…memorable for its sheer rich inventiveness, its visual power, its energy and dynamic …unforgettable.”
“This lives up to its title…diabolically inventive…touching a chord the West End wouldn’t know existed…vivid Mexican colours exploding against the black backdrop, the stage miraculously transformed into a whole series of moving tableaux…haunting…inspired music.”
A version of A Strange (& Unexpected) Event! was also part of our 1994 Easter work in Westminster Abbey. In 1997, we moved premises from Rawtenstall to our current building in Waterfoot. It meant that we didn’t have the time or resources to create and rehearse a brand new show. Instead we revived Senor Posada once more, and A Strange (& Unexpected) Event! went out on its third tour.
BOB FRITH (w/dir), BRAD HARLEY, STU BARKER (m), JO KING, ANNE BARBER, CLAIRE INGLEHEART (m), MARY KEITH, URSULA BURNS, FRANCES KING, NEVILLE CANN (m), MAFALDA DA CAMARA, GARY HILL, ELE WOOD (h), MOIRA HIRST (h), LOZ KAYE (m), NICKY FEARN, KATHY JONES, ANDREW KIM, KATHY BRADLEY, JILL PENNY, SARAH FRANGLETON, LIAM CARROLL (h), JOHN MORETON (admin), SALLY MARTIN (admin), MELANIE HORTON (marketing), PAUL BELL (childminder).