Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Ham Pilgrimage.

A long, but immensely rewarding day. We started early with a safety briefing meeting at Ham house - a final chance to make sure we'd got the stewards we needed, allocate roles, hand out radios and do a final walk of the route before heading off to The Royal Oak where the cast had already begun changing and setting up for The Friar's Tale. Craig, the landlord, in true Chaucerian spirit, laid on sandwiches. The band stood on the pavement welcoming the crowd and slowly but surely the pub began to fill.

Then we were off. The cast once again thoughtful in their staging and charming in their persuasion had negotiated to use the extension roof as a playing area which gave a perfect raised platform from where the crowd camped in the patio beer garden could see everything. The story ended with Michael's devil condemning the Summoner, played by Ella, to hell by pushing her through Craig's bathroom window. Emma B thanked the audience for coming and invited them onto The Brewery Tap for The Reeve's Tale.

The action really took off here. Jodie and Emma M, playing the randy students, moved seamlessly around the space, nicking crisps and grabbing a cheeky swig of beer here and there. The audience, now on their second pint, began to loosen up and suddenly the place was filled with laughter as the bed hoping and swiving reached it ridiculous conclusion.

On we went, a couple of hundred strong now, processing across, Ham Common trumpets playing, much to the amusement of the cricketers and the annoyance of the umpire, towards The Hand and Flower for The Merchant's Tale. It would be hard to imagine anything more quintessentially more English.

In the build up this pub had been the most sceptical about hosting a story, but in the end had agreed provided we didn't interfere with their lunchtime trade. They seemed a little surprised to see us invade the beer garden, but must have been happy enough with the custom. The story was sporadically interrupted by waitresses crossing the space carrying plates of meat and baskets of chips - but once again the cast rose wonderfully to the occasion. Even pausing to help one poor lost ploughman's lunch find its way to its hungry owner.

Ever onwards to The New Inn and The Nun's Priest's Tale, played perfectly in the space, drumming up yet more audience for the procession down the avenue to the back gates of the house itself for the first of the two evening shows.

The cast skillfully negotiated the family friendly version. Keeping all of the fun, winking at the adults whilst creating cartoon absurdity to keep the children laughing all the way through. Fantastic arrival at the benediction and flawless changeover ready for the final no holes barred bawdy push. A chance to blaze in full glory and celebrate both all the hard work that's gone into the last few months and the end of a marathon, but triumphant, day.

Finally, as the night set in, the company turned the corner and made their way to the front of the house. A deep breath, a prayer for all travellers still on the road and a final kyrie eleison. Controlled. Simple. Beautiful.


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