Last year the very excellent Kully Thiarai asked us to help her open Doncaster’s new theatre Cast (www.castindoncaster.com)
We did a ceremony involving a trombone player, flash mob dancers, a community choir, a song for the building and all sorts of fun.
To begin the process I’d written 3 parables on the importance of the arts. And then the magnificent Rachana Jadhev drew a series of illustrations. Both the text and illustrations were printed on ‘For Sale’ sign sized poster board. And then the stories were placed on lamp posts so that you could walk from specific parts of the town to the new theatre and read the stories on the way.
I was only slightly aware of the time how outrageous they are as piece of out and out propaganda, barely disguised as art. Of this I am, in retrospect, very proud. The opportunity to do all these things was incredibly precious to us, for which we have continued gratitude to the great guys at Cast.
I’ll be posting all 3 stories here with a selection of Rachana’s illustrations.
Partly because someone pointed out that this blog was basically the same speech rewritten every 3 months and I could afford to mix it up a bit 🙂
Belle and her Singing Laugh.
This place did not always looks like this. That shop behind you was not always there. The river ran a different course. The great squares of the town were once green and where there are now fountains once stood towers.
And all the metal and all the fire and all the men of this country once flowed through this town. On their way to somewhere else, or on their way from somewhere else.
And in this town, long ago when things were very different was a young girl called Belle. A young girl who could not laugh. Belle had tried. All her young life. But whenever Belle went to laugh she would instead sing. She couldn’t help it. She knew she wasn’t laughing but the message went from her brain- Laugh that was funny. And instead a great burst of impossible, high, powerful singing would come out of her mouth. Like a complicated hiccup. The singing was beautiful there was no denying it. But to not be able to laugh was a terrible thing. Think of all the times in our day when something is funny, and how exhausting it would be to sing in response to all those things. This had been Belle’s life.
To make matters worse the people thought Belle strange. Some whispered of witchcraft, others just that she was peculiar. But the noises were enough to force the girl away from other people. She would be constantly on the look out for anything that might provoke her strange singing, avoiding anything that had a sliver of joy or the possibility of smiling in it. And so Belle grew lonely.
But most people gave her little thought, forgotten as she was in the corner.
And so, long ago in this town, the metal and the fire and the men would bustle and jostle through this place and no one thought anything of it because it had always been that way. It was what people were used to.
But one day there was a great accident, a great collision. Somewhere in the middle of the bustle and jostle all the metal and all the fire and all the men collided. Smashed into one another in a great screaming mess of metal, fire and man.
A huge explosion shot into the air where the collision happened and the town sent their best firemen and helpers to the scene. But they soon came scurrying back, pale with fear.
What happened the firemen were asked. Have many men died?
It is worse, much worse replied the firemen shaking with fear.
And then, with a metallic roar came a creature from the collision. The metal and the fire had combined in the most horrible way with a poor soul and the tormented creature came stumbling into the square, screaming and spitting fire at all that came his way.
The firemen quickly threw up barriers around the creature to protect the town and people gathered at a distance to look at the monster that made such terrible noises and threw fire up in to the sky.
It quickly became clear to everyone that this poor soul was in terrible torment but no one was sure what to do. The firemen had tried their hoses but it had made no difference. This was no ordinary fire creature, his torment was magical not physical. Everyone was stumped. The barriers would hold the creature secure but the town was troubled not only by the wails of the creature and the bursts of fire day and night but also by the knowledge that they couldn’t help him.
But they had no idea what to do so soon the creature had been trapped in the square for many months. And the people had got used to him and simply avoided the square he was kept in.
One night Belle was creeping around town. She would often go out at night when she knew everyone would be asleep. She would go to the quiet dark corner of the town and get out comic strips that she didn’t dare to read during the day. She would read about the silly white dog and his yellow bird friend, about the imaginative schoolboy and his invisible tiger and the orange cat with his mischievous face. And, in the dark, when no one was nearby, she would sing. Sing her impossible, high, powerful laugh.
She had been reading the pictures of the Fat Viking and his silly soldiers and singing her laugh quietly to herself in the dark corner she used for reading her funny pictures.
All of sudden she heard a noise and looked up to see the town’s milkman stood completely still in front of her. She stopped her singing and waited for the familiar look of bewilderment that always followed people witnessing her singing. But he wasn’t bewildered he was terrified.
He whispered urgently “okay Belle, quietly, come as quick as you can to me.”
Why she asked scared, what’s wrong.
“I don’t know how it has happened but you… you… you… you are sat on the fire monster.”
‘What fire monster’ Belle asked as she looked down.
Sure enough Belle was sat on the fire monster, but she had no idea what it was keeping herself to herself in the corners of the town until it was dark. She had moved in the dark to sit on what she thought was a bench but in fact, now she chose to look at it was clearly a large creature made mostly from metal.
She was so taken by how ridiculous it was to be sat upon a creature made of metal that, although she was still a little to be scared, she started to laugh again. She wouldn’t normally have let herself laugh knowing the Milkman was there but it was so silly to have accidentally been sat on a huge creature made of metal. Why hadn’t the creature said anything?
“Why isn’t it doing it’s fire thing?” asked the Milkman still desperate for Belle to get away from the creature.
‘What fire thing’ asked Belle laughing even louder- fire thing, how ridiculous.
“He’s purring” she said between snatches of laughter. She could hear him purring now she knew he was there. Now she thought about it that sound had always been there as she had read her funnies in the dark.
Soon the firemen, and the helpers and the other experts in the town were called by the Milkman and he told them how he found the fire creature calm and purring and Belle with the strange laugh sat on top of it in the dark reading a comic book by torch light. And although the men couldn’t understand it, and although it didn’t make any sense to anyone everyone agreed that somehow Belle’s singing laughter, Belle’s laughing impossible, high, powerful singing soothed the creature and he was at peace when she was laughing.
Belle was just so happy to be laughing and not have people staring at her strangely she continued to sit on the creature reading her comics, although she had no need for the torch because it was the afternoon by now. And the creature had never looked so at peace and although they couldn’t be sure the Milkman was certain that what they used to call the Fire Monster looked like he was happy.
The men started to leave, happy that they understood as much as they were ever going to. “Are you going home?” asked the Milkman of Belle.
‘Oh I would have thought so’ said Belle ‘but just after this one’ as she burst in to laughter singing and turned the page on her big book of funny drawings.
Drawings by the ever brilliant Rachana Jadhav