The Rotherfold Bull
The idea for this script and for the subsequent play came from exploring the history of the Rotherfold Square in Totnes. Rotherfold roughly translates from an old form of english as - a holding place for horned beasts. This conjured demonic ideas and imagery, soon put to bed however as I had at that time recently completed an adaptation of Faust and was in no mood for the Devil.
I was approached by Jonathan Lee of the Rotherfold Improvement Group about the potential of presenting some theatrical work in the historic site at the top of Totnes. It was an interesting commission to undertake and one I readily said yes to.
Having walked through the square many times over many years I had always in passing thought wouldn't it be great do something here. People do something there anyway of course. They sit, they gather etc. It's an old gathering place, in times gone by it was an important part of the farming industry of Totnes.
The production of the play was developed to a pretty tight brief for all involved in the project. Shanaz ( the co producer) and I organised a few meetings to encourage volunteers to get involved in creating a piece of theatre for this very public place. Shanaz began working with students from The Grove Primary School as a chorus whilst we also began to pull together local professional performers. We were fortunate to gather a lot of local talent to create a very public piece of theatre. Rosie Race a local performer and director agreed to handle the piece for a small fee and rehearsals began.
As this was a community piece it felt like a natural step to revisit the idea of travelling players coming to present a simple, fun tale that reflected on the gathering of people. The story I developed borrowed much from old traditions of 'rocking up' hopping off your cart and presenting your performance preferably without getting pelted with rotten root vegetables at the end.
It concerned a foolish farmer, his undervalued but clever daughter and her nemesis a pompous local loudmouth. It also featured the titular Rotherfold Bull.
It had to feature a bull and Tim McGill was that all singing, all dancing Bull.
The characters were 'big' and written to be performed in a style that carries across a noisy open area. The songs followed a noisy and irreverent folk tradition.
I set out to write a caper basically, with base humour fart gags and cross dressing.
With this kind of theatre there is no fourth wall ( there is in fact only one wall at the Rotherfold Square).
The play was not ticketed people could come and go as they pleased. It was pleasing to see the audience grow over the course of the performance. It's always fascinating to watch audiences grow like this. Many people had turned up to watch it of course, but those passing by became curious and engaged and by and large stopped to see what was happening.
We had attendances of 300 to 400 people on each occasion. It's proof really that if you make it (and market the hell out of it) they will come.
I walk through the Rotherfold Square now knowing that something was done here, theatre lives in transient moments and disappears, to me that's the reason theatre is so special. Here today, gone tomorrow. It's a happening that both audience and performers share in, for a little while and then what has happened happens no more. I think all those who contributed by 'getting off the cart' and performing or watching or heckling have added another little bit of community history to the Rotherfold Square. Part of the Rotherfold Improvement Group's aims were to raise the profile of the square and it's potential for use by and for the community. Those who attended those two performances in the May of 2015 certainly helped achieve this aim.
Bringing theatre out and into unused spaces, public spaces, hidden places even. Places of performance beyond the conventional theatre space is always a really exciting prospect for me. It's always worth doing.