2016 Summer Outdoor Tour – Macbyrd
It’s 1940 in the sleepy Sussex village of Jevington. George, a retired mechanic, cheerfully tends his vegetables (for the war effort) when his wife, Lil, comes out with a cup of tea, a piece of delicious upside-down cake, and… a letter from The War Office. “What’s this?” he says. “What’s this?”. Above in a cotton wool sky, bombers set out across the channel. But clouds are menacing, bubbling up like ink blots above the Downs. Magpies gather, hopping in a circle on their twiggy legs. “What’s this?” they cackle. “What’s this?” And then, with clattering wings, they seem to screech, “Peck out his eyes! Peck out his eyes!” But it’s not to George they croak. A raven, black, and sleek as silk, lands nearby on a branch, head held high and wings outstretched, bouncing like a tight-rope walker. The magpies lower their bodies subserviently. “Your time has come, Macbyrd,” they croak. “Listen to the wind!”
Amidst the cabbages, broccoli and comic absurdity, a dark and menacing intrigue simmers as a power struggle breaks out amongst the birds.
“Macbyrd” is a brand new play from The Rudes, and is a comedy thriller. Sixteen of the characters are birds! Don’t miss Inspector Seed, a pigeon, as the detective! It is set in 1940 and is about the changes to a small village in rural Sussex, Jevington, brought about by the threat of invasion, it’s impact on the local WI, the cricket club, the village play, and on relationships – and on how with the war people must take on new roles. There are two stories which link together.
Up above there is a power struggle among the birds and the swan, symbol of a certain kind of traditional Englishness and social structure, is murdered by the upstart raven, Macbyrd, who resents the swan’s snobbish disregard for the poor, the sparrows. Pete Talbot, the writer and director, says, “There are, it has to be admitted, a few echoes of a certain Shakespeare play. Macbyrd is told by the ‘gypsy magpies’ that his time has come, that ‘sleek birds, black against the sky’ will rule. In fact change to the village is because a momentous event is going to happen – and I’m not going to tell you what!”
Prejudice amongst the ‘oomans puts the death of the swan down to gypsies and among the birds to a foreigner, a rare Indian bushlark which has been swept in by storms. Here’s the serious bit. In the same way that Hitler represented a threat to our values, so too in people’s perceptions do other things today. How do we deal with these ‘threats’ and what indeed do our values really consist of and how should we adapt in the face of change? Inevitably base instincts like prejudice surface. In this cauldron of change the play explores the values of ordinariness (the heroism of living an ‘ordinary’ life as part of a community), leadership, love and adaptivity that remain constants in difficult times. The comedy is partly in the absurdity of the birds’ world, but also – and it is a comedy of manners – in the ways of “country folk”. So there’s a bit of Foyle’s War about it and a bit of “The Archers” – plus quite a bit of The Rudes, too.
We began touring our commedia dell’arte inspired shows to village greens, pub gardens, private gardens, recreation grounds and even cow fields in the summer of 1999. We tour mainly to villages, but also to some towns and a few heritage sites, from Falmouth to Canterbury. The furthest north we have been so far is Hampton Court Palace. We began with three Shakespeare’s (The Comedy of Errors, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Twelfth Night), all with traditional commedia dell’arte scenarios (twins, mix-up’s, overbearing fathers, et al) to start building a fan base.
In 2002 we created our first brand new play, ‘The Comedy of Babi Babbett’. We have gradually moved away from the traditional scenarios typified by the Scenarios of Flaminia Scala, but until ‘Five Get Famous’ in 2007 we stuck closely to the Italian family structure with the debauched and mean Pantalone type at the head, the seedy and seductive Signora, the pairs of Innamorati (the Lovers) with their traditional battute (or batting) dialogue, the boastful but cowardly il Capitano, the various Il Dottores or doctors and of course the zanni or clowns.
Our style adheres very closely to traditional commedia movement, with visual or ‘stand alone’ gags (lazzi) and sequences (burli), a key feature of which is the battoccio or slapstick. Live music is integrated as in the tradition with the team playing up to ten instruments live between them. You can read more about our approach in the ‘Talk Commedia’ section of this site.
As Jenny Gilbert (Independent on Sunday) said in her review of ‘The Gold Rush’: “The triumph of this vibrant production is the lingering conviction that love, friendship, the stream of life and the human spirit all give Fosca a run for his money” – themes embodied in our logo, Peppe-Nappa, who despite being at the bottom of the pile, with his hand-me-down clothes too big for him and constantly put upon, still manages to dance on his adversity.