(Patricia) Ann Jellicoe

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Allen Saddler

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Community Theatre is one of those new concepts where a critic treads warily, if at all. Is it to be judged as a piece of theatre, or does it come under the Arts Council dictum for community arts, 'participation more important than the product?' How can you view a piece of work when the quality of performance is a secondary consideration?

The Reckoning succeeds on both counts and spoils the discussion. As a piece of theatre it is exciting, dramatic and experimental, and as a piece of community art it seems to have involved at least 200 people directly in performing and backstage functions and to have aroused the interest of a large section of the population of Lyme Regis.

The difference in this piece of community art from others I have seen is that the professionals have not taken a back seat, but have acted as a catalyst, with the energetic Ann Jellicoe taking a positive lead in writing, directing and organising….

The Reckoning deals with a brief period in the history of Lyme at the time of the Monmouth rebellion. Young Sam Dassin rode a series of sweaty horses to London to warn the king. Dissenters were hung, drawn and quartered and families split asunder….

The form is action on three stages, with the audience swivelling round in the middle and often involved in crowd scenes. At first it is disconcerting when the man standing next to you is violently hauled off to face the dreaded Judge Jeffreys, but after a while the interest in following the progress of events overcomes shyness.

The play is a series of short sharp scenes. Melodramatic, violent and moments of crude, even zany, humour, I would say it was a good deal more theatrical than historical. No doubt the people of Lyme know their local history, but an outsider would do well to bone up before arrival. The performance is preceded by a carnival purporting to be an Elizabethan market known as Cobb Ale. (The Cobb is a harbour and the ale was sold, although not in plastic cups, to pay for its upkeep.) This half-hour of local colour does certainly set the scene. From then on it is all action. The mayor and his cronies scramble around in a frenzy, people rush by in terror, beg for mercy or confide strange secrets into your ear. A girl who is pregnant by a Catholic finds herself in a strange dilemma, proclamations are read from all parts of the hall. Soldiers burst in. Bands parade. Prisoners are dragged off screaming. Brawls break out just where you are standing. Events proceed so quickly that there is no time to examine the Catholic or the Protestant case. The quiet periods, (very short), are dour predictions of family troubles. Of course, it is a bloodthirsty period and to encapsulate all the drama and violence into about two hours leaves little time for debate.

When all the colour has dimmed what is the future for this type of theatrical enterprise? This massive effort ran four nights in Lyme Regis and was sold out for every performance. It is unlikely to be produced elsewhere. No doubt that Lyme is a warmer community as a result and it is the effect on the community that is important. Amateurs acted with professionals, scores of children had an experience to remember, a local writer achieved total integration with the community, but, overall, The Reckoning remains a very enclosed local event. If shorter working hours and micro-processors do make the inroads that have been predicted, local theatre of this scale and quality may be the concept of the future, but I think that this experience has shown that it will need professional vision and expertise.

Allen Saddler, "The Reckoning" (© copyright Allen Saddler 1979; reprinted with permission), in Plays and Players, Vol. 26, No. 6, February, 1979, p. 29.

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