Rude in Winchelsea

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On Sunday evening, Winchelsea was visited by the acclaimed Eastbourne-based Rude Mechanicals touring theatre company, who performed outdoors in the grounds of St Thomas’s School. Although this was their first visit to Winchelsea, the company attracted an audience of over 80, in no part due to the energetic box office run by local resident Hilary Roome. And despite some drizzle towards the end, everyone stayed until the very end. At least it had been pleasant for the picnics consumed before the play.

The Rudes performed a play called “Macbyrd”. It was based on events in the Wealden village of Jevington in 1940, when the RAF moved in, disrupting the cricket club, the WI and much else by taking over the village green. The play followed events among the villagers but also among the local birds. The name of the play refers to a raven, who becomes a Macbeth figure after his ambition is excited by a charm of magpies standing in for the Bard’s weird sisters.

The Rudes deserved a good audience and the enthusiastic applause they received. They are extremely talented actors, singers and musicians. The music on its own was wonderful. The make-up was imaginative and very effective. Faces were painted white and facial features outlined, while the actors wore wigs made of strips of fabric. The doll-like effect, inspired by the Commedia dell’Arte, made it almost impossible to pick out individual actors when they changed character and costume. The bird costumes were superb and the characters of the different species of bird very well acted.

But while the company deserve nothing but the highest praise, the play itself was rather a disappointment. The concept was inspired and offered a nice homage to Shakespeare on the quin-centenary of his death, but the script was definitely not Shakespearean. The human characters were generally shallow and stereotypical 1940s nobs, yokels and RAF Brylcreem Boys. But the weakest plank on the stage was the plot among the birds. The idea of a Louis XVI-like swan (king of the local birds) being murdered by the raven Macbyrd was just out of sync with the type of social change in the village that was supposedly at the core of the story. Consequently, the two stories in the play simply unravelled. There was also the compulsory but tedious politically correct insert where the death of the swan is blamed on a foreign bird. One has to wonder whether the desire for a bit of Agitprop got the better of the author.
Not withstanding the flaws in the play, however, this critic’s recommendation is that you should take any chance to see this excellent company in action!

Poster image: Rude Mechanicals

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