This weekend, the Butler and I went to an open air production of Sense and Sensibility set on the grounds of Mount Grace Priory, a National Heritage site. Mount Grace itself can be seen across the fields on some of Big Nose Dog’s walks; the names of two houses in our village boast of a priory view, now obliterated by mature trees.
Places like Mount Grace call on us to create magic, I think. If you’re not sure what I mean, could you walk through these grounds and not imagine what went on there? That’s our innate ability to be in our minds where our bodies are not. That has to be magic, does it not?
The site’s history that I know, starts with a fourteenth century Carthusian charterhouse that survived only a little over 140 years of religious contemplation. Then Henry VIII sent Mount Grace on its travels through various owners to the Lowthian-Bell family who gave us Gertrude Bell.
There’s a woman whose life makes the jaw drop. Up in the manor's attic, you can see where someone recorded the children’s heights, look at old family photos and listen to staff talk about Gertrude; you won’t be thinking about monks and a fat old profligate wanting a son, although all those things happened here.
Magic. Imagine putting on open air theatre in such a place.
The Butler packed a picnic for the masses, although there were only we two. We stowed canvas chairs and hamper and rug into Little Car, had to park in the overflow area, so many people had come, and a few of those on foot. We claimed a space on a little rise at the back, across from the old Carthusian guest house.
The audience included people from the Point to Point set who brought fold-away tables covered with fabric cloths, dressed in their Dubarry boots and wool jackets and stockman riding coats, although the group to our right put an eighteenth century spin on the dress code. Here were the considered-successful of the community, some, like the Butler, with serious day jobs, yet the desire for fun, for magic, it sizzled through the audience with childhood intensity.
|The group next to us|
Neil Gaiman writes in his latest book that none of us are adults, rather children inside adult bodies. Those of us who openly admit our need to create, to imagine and pretend well into adulthood, we’re the ones who put on the period dress, pack two desserts inside the hamper (well, four, if you count the Betty's cakes and how could you not), drink champagne from children's cups.
Humans ache for opportunities to create, whether it’s decorating the house, writing a play, sitting at a National Heritage site to watch an open air performance that helps us imagine another life in another time. It’s a fine line, though, for those of us who are driven to create. More is asked of us, perhaps unfairly so.
Because we have the temerity to put our creations on show, we cannot purely create with the abandon of children, nor even stop at thinking about grammar and structure, the indelible dramatic arc. More important than bringing forth the myths inside us, we’re told the world now wants us to count Twitter followers, blog hits, Likes and RTs. It’s the high school game of popularity taken to a fiscal level. Be in, rather than be creative.
For some of you, the two are the same. For me, it’s hard work. There’s many a good intentioned person who’s crossed my path to utter several Don’ts about what I write or how I write or even that I write.
I thank whatever deity who hangs around me, that none of those naysayers actually live in my house, because it becomes harder and harder as I read a blog about self publishing or how to utilise social media, for me to keep the fun in what I’m doing. If those horrid little voices lived inside the Writing Closet, I’d probably set fire to the thing and start taking copious doses of Valium.
I don’t want my myths or voice to be critiqued into someone else’s idea of what I should say.
The open air performance itself could be hailed as good-enough theatre, an assessment that might disappoint some to hear. But for me, it was a great success because it was great fun. Nature graced us with a soft rain during the second half, as well as a serious owl fight somewhere on the hillside; bats kept flitting close to the stage and nary an eighteenth century lady flinched.
When the play ended, we gathered up our things by torchlight, I stopped between the manor and the chapel just to look, and it impacted me viscerally, what it would've been like to step out the back door at night as a child and see the Priory’s ruins.
‘How magical it must’ve been,’ I told the Butler.
And it’s that magic that I struggle to hold onto.