Last Tuesday I attended a special performance in Essex’s Beggs Park. The Mettawee River Theatre Company was in town for one night only to perform their beautiful and funny interpretation of the Welsh legend Taliesin.
Under the Artistic Direction of mask maker, designer and director Ralph Lee, the Mettawee River Theatre Company, founded in 1975, creates original theater productions that incorporate masks, giant figures, puppets and other visual elements with live music, movement and text, drawing on myths, legends and folklore of the world’s many cultures for its material.
The performance is filled with delightful masks and puppets of all sizes. I particularly enjoyed a chase scene where two characters kept shapeshifting into various animals. These smaller “puppets” were very beautiful, and the actors did wonderfully at quickly exchanging one animal for another (rabbit to fish to bird etc.) and mimicking the animal’s movements and calls.
Eventually the boy attempting to escape changes into a grain of wheat to hide among many, but when the Goddess becomes a hen and eats all the wheat and then transforms back into a woman she realizes that she is pregnant. Thus Taliesin is born.
Throughout the show there were several scenes in which the actors performed various interpretative movements to represent something of the elements or nature. When the baby Taliesin is placed in a basket by his mother the actors dance and sing rhythmically to the beat of the music mimicking the flow of a river, and they pass the basket back and forth until it is hauled ashore by a fisherman.
When the fisherman realizes he caught a baby he is surprised, but even more so when Taliesin begins eloquently speaking and professes himself a bard and good luck. The fisherman and his wife take in Taliesin and raise him, and years later when trouble brews for their little family from King Maelgwyn’s court Taliesin proves instrumental in saving them and teaching a lesson to the interlopers.
The show really retained the feel of an old folk legend, and involved lots of trickery that lead to the wicked getting their just desserts and good people getting one over on the corrupt nobility. A lot of laughs were heard from the audience during the scenes at court.
The actor’s clothing and that of the puppets appeared appropriate for the period the tale took place in. Throughout the show we saw some beautiful puppets, but also various rustic props that fit perfectly with this outdoor performance.
At the end of the show it had become dark and the final props including long staffs with luminescent white stars glowing atop them, which was a fitting accompaniment for the haunting song that ended the show. This performance was a truly unique experience.
Explore the gallery below to see more of the show. (Click to enlarge and read captions.)
- Mettawee River Theatre Company to Perform in Beggs Park (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Belden Noble Memorial Library: Beggs Collection (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Steamboat Sighting (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Boquet River Theatre Festival at the Grange (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- A Review of Depot Theatre’s Boeing Boeing (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)