The first set of Place Prints all took locations in England for their inspiration; this second batch casts the net wider around the other countries of the UK. To be strictly accurate the first piece is set in Cornwall but, given that many there regard themselves as part of an independent nation, my premise just about holds. Rudkin has by this stage found his rhythm with some of the pieces developing themes already used in the earlier examples.
The title of the fifth piece, Nemeton, refers to an ancient Celtic sacred place – this one is in a remote area of west Cornwall and Rudkin gives us a highly detailed account of the path which leads to it. I’m not really sure I would call this a play – it is more a lyrical prose poem or highly wrought passage from a novel. Every piece of vegetation, every sound, is systematically catalogued as we proceed along the track – the voice guiding us seems to be that of the pathway itself. As performed by Michael Pennington it becomes repetitively hypnotic conjuring up the mysterious nature of the place. This is definitely one to be savoured via headphones in a quiet location and Adam McCready, who conjures up the various soundscapes for the pieces has excelled himself in this particular episode.
From a pathway speaking, we move to a lone individual treading a pathway. These Clouded Hills recalls the true-life feat of Mary Jones who in 1800 left her home in deepest rural Wales to buy a Bible that had just been printed in the Welsh language. This entailed a 25 mile journey across wild countryside and up and over Cader Idris in Snowdonia. And she was only 16. And she did it mostly in bare feet (to save her clogs). And she did it all in one day. Hedydd Dylan plays Mary and reveals the young girl’s indomitable spirit as she struggles against the odds. It is clear that her faith is strong and Rudkin foregrounds this by having everything she sees remind the young girl of a story or passage from the Bible she so earnestly desires. The play is similar in tone to Nemeton in evoking a particular time and place but there is also a timeless quality which both pieces possess. (Appropriately there is a Welsh language version of this piece available – it seems to be about ten minutes longer; I’m not sure why).
From Wales to the middle of Northern Ireland and one of its mysterious loughs, a place of myth and legend but for one man a reminder of his childhood in To The Waters And The Wild. Stephen Rea plays the grown up who remembers his youth on the lough’s shores and is determined to revisit before a terrible affliction falls upon him. He reflects that maybe the lough is somehow responsible for his fate, for there are local tales of a vengeful spirit. The play suggests that he is right as the second voice is that of the lough itself in the person of Frances Tomelty. The two actors are perfectly cast and bring a real sense of uneasiness to the piece – it always seems if something is about to happen but it’s really not that sort of a play: it’s all about the atmosphere.
The final location on this whistle stop UK tour is Scotland, by the Solway Firth, for Where There Is No More Sea. Frances Grey plays an actress researching a role she is about to play. It is that of Margaret who was executed for refusing to swear allegiance to Charles II – in her eyes an act of blasphemy – and the actress tries to recreate the thought processes that led her character to this point and her feelings as her moment of death approached. It was a particularly cruel and slow death as the victim was tied to a stake at low tide and then left to drown as the waters came in. The last few minutes of this play do not spare the listener as Grey begins to embody Margret and acts out her last moments – the sound effects of the sea are quite horrible to hear and really bring home how cruel humankind can be. At the same time, we admire Margaret’s fighting spirit and her refusal to compromise her principles. However, the account is the subject of dispute, and we are left wondering whether it can be a true Place Print at all.
What is certain is that Rudkin has written another set of evocative pieces which are not easily categorised. If I wasn’t as taken by these four as the first set, they are still an ideal way to wind down and luxuriate in the soothing intonations of the spoken word. However, I wouldn’t recommend playing the last one just before you go to sleep!
Place Prints 1 – 4 reviewed here
Place Prints 9 – 10 reviewed here
Place Prints can be found on the New Perspectives website. Click here
If you would like a visual sense of the locations in the plays, there are short films by Grant Gee available in a video gallery. Click here
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