7 - 13 September 2000
Issue No. 498
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Plain TalkBy Mursi Saad El-Din
An article in a London paper brought back some sweet memories of my days in England. The article was centred on a production of Shakespeare's Henry V that took place in the grounds of Arundel Castle. On reading the piece I was flooded by memories of the high-ceilinged room inside the castle where I once spent a week, the occasion being a workshop for school drama. At that time I had an overwhelming interest in anything to do with children, having myself just become a father.
Situated on a hill overlooking the beautiful Sussex Downs, Arundel Castle is now celebrated as the site of the Arundel Festival which has become an annual event, enlivening the sometimes sleepy castle for almost quarter of a century now. And one of the main attractions of the festival has always been the production of a play.
This year the chosen play is quite in keeping with the castle, given that in the play King Henry asks: "What is the castle called that stands hard by?" The answer, of course, is not Arundel but Agincourt, though in this case a castle, any castle, is still a castle. The play was the work of the Tour de Force company.
Tour de Force, as the Independent article mentions, is committed "to the unfashionable, democratic notion of ensemble playing." It has 25 amateurs acting alongside the professional members of the company. The amateurs -- the director prefers to call them non-professionals -- are recruited from among the local inhabitants. True, most of the non-professionals have small parts, but being close to professional artists makes the project look like a workshop.
Most of the local recruits have other jobs to do, but all had a flair for acting. One was a bank clerk, another one a magistrate, a third a lawyer. Some of them were members of amateur dramatic troupes. And the efforts of the Arundel citizens did not stop at taking parts on the stage. Much of the behind-the-scenes work was carried out by young volunteers. According to the article "half the female student population of West Sussex seem to be repainting the arena's perimeter fence, while other burlier locals are erecting the stage."
I can quite imagine the happiness on the faces of the young while they were carrying out those essential chores without which the show could not start. The feeling of their own usefulness must have given them great satisfaction. It sounded, to me, like being in a workshop of "civics", teaching them the principles of communal work.
In fact the local community went even further in their contribution to the success of the production. There was a scheme for the Tour de Force troupe to take the production to the US and there to involve college students from Connecticut. The scheme was near to collapse due to a shortfall of funds. So a celebrity auction was held in Arundel at which the public "knowingly paid over the odds for autographed items, such as books and clothes of famous personalities." Almost 5,000 pounds was collected which helped to save the production.
The professional actors and stage workers were billeted at the houses of festival supporters, while rehearsal lunches were provided by local supermarkets.
The article quotes the director, Joe Harmston, as he pointed to the equivalence between this collective enterprise and the militaristic one in the play. "There's no better play for expressing the spirit of what we're trying to do," he says.
The rehearsals for the play took place in the grounds of a preparatory school. The bursar of the school, hearing that the production was looking for rehearsal space, telephoned. "I've got 55 acres if that's any good."
Commenting on the non-professionals, one of the leading pros said: "I don't want to be patronising, but they're just so incredibly keen. They really are going to give it the most tremendous amount of wellie. The production was sold out in advance."