Recent H+B touring shows had been based on the lives of historical figures – Jose Guadalupe Posada, Maya Deren, and Abbess Hildegard of Bingen. I felt it was time to write an entirely new, an invented, story. An inspiration for the the idea was Lol Coxhill’s 1976 recording Diverse. On the first side of the record there’s an improvised piece for soprano saxophone and a loose floorboard. The Legend of the Creaking Floorboard also has obvious references to the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice – Orpheus in the Underworld.

The masks

I also wanted to try working with formalised masks worn above the head. The performers look out of a gauze ‘window’ at the neck level of the characters. I used this type of mask in Angel Mummers, so I knew that it would produce a highly stylised performance. It results in the masked figures moving more like a large puppet than an actor or dancer. In contrast, for much of the performance the male figure would be a bunraku-type puppet, operated by three puppeteers. Unlike the large women it was half life-size. Using three puppeteers invests this kind of puppet with an unusual power, as if it funnels three times the energy and presence of a normal puppet. The set was designed and made by myself and Colette Garrigan. Work started in April; rehearsals at the end of May, and the preview show was on 17 June. We put aside seven weeks for rehearsal, not wanting to repeat the problems we’d had with Visions of Hildegard.

Musicians

The music was by Loz Kaye and Chris Davies. I wanted the two musicians to be placed on the stage, free to move around as part of the action. My idea was for them to ‘shadow’ the large masked figures. I wanted this to give the figures a more physical quality than the formal puppet-like masked characters might otherwise possess. We also revived the idea of a raised stage from A Strange (& Unexpected) Event!. Again the stage-floor could become part of the story. It could allow the existence of an under-stage world, which could then be woven into the plot.

Gog and Magog

IThe Legend of the Creaking Floorboard the two main characters are sisters, Gog and Magog. At the start of the story they sit on their rocking chairs, both calmly knitting. But Gog, it turns out, has a lover, the Knife-grinder.  He makes an unplanned visit and invites her out, leaving Magog on her own for the evening. Magog is a clearly a little put-out by this turn of events but she tries to relax. However, as she knits, her rocking chair disturbs a loose floorboard. The creak just gets louder and louder. The noise irritates her, and she tries to fix it by tapping the board gently with a hammer. But nothing works – the creaking gets louder and louder and finally, Magog explodes into a rage. Picking up the hammer she destroys the offending floorboard, smashing it into splinters. Uncontrollable, she turns to the next one and then the next…wood flies everywhere….a huge hole appears in the floor. Only then does Magog stop and gape at the damage she has done.

The Underworld

Then Gog suddenly returns from her night out with her lover. Astonished, all three stare into the hole in the middle of what had been their living room. Knifegrinder offers to look under the floor to assess the damage, and he gingerly lets himself down into the hole. When he reappears he asks the two sisters to pass him various tools and items. Each time he disappears below the floor for a few seconds longer. Increasingly fascinated by the underfloor world, he asks for his bicycle to be passed down to him. Gog remonstrates – she is getting nervous, and worries for her friend, but the bicycle gets carefully passed into the underworld. Knifegrinder ties one end of Magog’s knitting wool to his handle-bars.  He reassures the sisters that he will keep a connection to the room above. As he cycles off under the stage, we see the wool unwinding on its knitting needle, slowly at first but getting faster and faster – until it come to its end and flies off into the hole. The loose end promptly disappears below the floorboards, leaving Gog and Magog stranded and horrified at the turn of events.

At this point in the story there’s a big change. The stage is invaded by a group of sweeping women – all with the same high head masks as Gog and Magog themselves. They step, then totally transform the stage into a cavernous underworld. The story then continues with Gog’s search for Knifegrinder in the Underworld. This, possibly the strangest of all Horse + Bamboo shows, was well received and toured for two years in the UK and the Netherlands. This was almost the last of our horse-drawn tours, although that honour really goes to ‘The Girl Who Cut Flowers’ which toured briefly in Ireland during 2000. 

 

BOB FRITH (wr/dir), LOZ KAYE (m), CHRIS DAVIES (m), JO KING, JONNY QUICK, RUTH ?, VICTORIA LEE, SUE PALMER, LISA HARRISON, CAROLINE THOMPSON, GRAHAM FELL, SUE DAY (h)

 

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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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