In 1985 we spent the summer moving from our workshop in Irwell Vale to a larger and far better equipped space in Rawtenstall. Then we were invited to take part in the Spanish International Puppet Festival in Seville. It was the period of the first left-leaning government in Spain since the death of Franco. For much of the country there was a great mood of optimism and a cultural re-awakening. The company was offered a fee that didn’t cover our costs but we felt the opportunity was too good to miss. The British Council also decided to give us a contribution towards the show. In turn we asked the festival if they would allow us to tour the rural areas in Sevilla Province rather than just perform in the city. The authorities found this an unusual request and they needed a little persuasion but, eventually, it was agreed to with a shrug of the shoulders.

We tightened our belts to create a small, cheap show, redeploying our horse trailer as an outdoor theatre. In November we took the ferry to Santander, and drove our van and the trailer down to Andalusia and Seville, where we all stayed together at Hotel Goya, in the beautiful Jewish Quarter.

In Seville we were amazed to find that main roads would be closed off by the police for several hours at a time in order to create the space for a street show. People grumbled, and car horns would be sounded. But once everyone realised it was for a theatre show then everything was suddenly cool, no problem. Most motorists just stayed around and watched the show. I was impressed that audiences instinctively knew how to create a circle so everyone could see things well. A site that would barely lend itself to 50 spectators in England, since above that number the sight-lines would be blocked, could magically accommodate 200 or more in Spain. Everyone sorted themselves into good order without so much as a word having to be uttered. This skill seemed to be instinctive.

Our decision to perform in the small hilltop pueblos in the countryside really paid off. People were delighted to see entertainers arriving in their towns and villages for the first time in decades. Large crowds assembled just to watch us set up our show. A good piece of setting up would be awarded with a round of applause. This would go on for hours. It also astonished people that the show was being offered for free, and impromptu flamenco performances by people of all ages were put on, at short notice, as repayment to us in return for our show. These unforgettable improvised dance sessions would go on late into the night. They involved both young and old from the pueblo, everyone clapping the flamenco rhythms for the dancers.

The whole experience was amazing, especially as the post-Christmas ferry home closed down for a two week break, so a handful of us had to stay in Spain throughout the Christmas and New Year period. We used this time to slowly make our way north back to Santander for early January in order to catch the first ferry back after the break. On New Years Eve we joined a crowd in the plaza of a Catalan hill town. Grapes were eaten as the clock struck midnight; wishes were made and hundreds of bottle of cava were thrown into the air to smash into pieces in a giant explosion on the cobbles. Then a mysterious group of dwarves arrived out of nowhere and led us all away to a nightclub on the edge of town.

BOB FRITH, MOIRA HIRST, ANNE BARBER, MELISSA WYER, DAVE KING (m), SALLY MARTIN (admin)

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Bob Frith founded Horse + Bamboo Theatre in 1978. He now manages the Dave Pearson Studio and is active in support of Apna Rossendale.

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