December 26, 2018

What Are We Going to Do About Margery (Kempe)?

Whatever Next? 

I started 2018 working with Elizabeth MacDonald on an adaptation of her epic play "Skirting Heresy; The Life and Times of Margery Kempe of Lynn" for a prospective production at Lynn Minster. It was very much an act of faith because at that time there was no guarantee that the project would ever see the light of day. 5 weeks into the year, and after much midnight oil and spilled ink, we had a workable script - and a suite of new Margery songs - and as the year rolled on our project steering committee led by Lindsey Bavin at True's Yard against considerable odds reeled in the required funding, appointed a brilliant young director and - slowly but surely - called in a exciting local cast and crew of 30. And, last of all, rather unexpectedly but excitingly, the Penland Phezants called in to create the score not just (as planned) to provide demos of the songs for the cast to sing. By now, it was August, and instead of the cold January mornings poring over a script only Liz and I knew much about, it was a heatwave and we were in the middle of an epic production with a large company spirit and headed for a full house at the Minster at the end of September.

Not long before we got there, Margery Kempe got some long overdue civic recognition (led by Alison Gifford) in the shape of a bench in her honour. I wrote this poem to celebrate that landmark and it was accepted as an exclusive by a local Lynn newspaper to be published in print and online. As is sometimes the way with these things, the moment passed without this promise actually being honoured, so apart from a performance at Lynn Heritage Day, it's remained unavailable until now: the fag end of a year in which most of my labours were in one way or another Margery-related.

A recording also appears on the Penland Phezants soundtrack album Songs for Skirting Heresy, which is available online, at Phezants' gigs and at True's Yard. It's a rare opportunity to play God - always fun - as in the poem I imagine Him reflecting, rather like the Mother Superior and Maria in the Sound of Music, on His errant but exuberant charge.

(On The Occasion of Margery of Lynn Being Honoured with an Oak Bench in Saturday Market Place, the Heavens Opening in a Biblical  Storm the Same Night.)

Hear the poem here

(for Alison Gifford)

O what shall I do with Illiterate Marge, in love with My Word,
When my Holy Spirit bellows, she asks for a bird
That she begs like a pilgrim in a foreign land
For a common sign she can understand.

(She'll be writing an Autobiography next!)

O what shall I do with Illiterate Marge, in love with My Word,
When my Holy Spirit bellows, she asks for a bird
That she begs like a Lollard in a Catholic land
For an English robin she can understand.

(She'll be reading a New English Bible next!)

O what shall I do with Illiterate Marge, a proto Fanny Burney
In borrowed nun's robes, on unlicensed journeys?
I appear! - as handsome a vision as wife could want-
And as monks shriek prayers (as Lynn burns) it's hers I grant.

(She'll be sainted for the gracious miracle next!)

O what shall I send this Illiterate Marge on My Holy Bread?
A heaven-pew, a hard-back from which Lynn's heart is read,
Baptised by almighty tears in a Wash of thunder and flame,
Inscribed with her hard-won titles - Author, Pilgrim, Mystic, Name.

(She'll be honoured in her native parish next!)

December 14, 2018

A Happy Christmas and A Lynn Carol from the Penland Phezants

As we reach the end of our hectic first year,  may I on behalf of the Penland Phezants wish all our listeners (including the 70 more lovely people who helped bring alive our True Story of Hereward the Wake at Elmswell History group at our last gig of the year last night!)  A Very Happy Christmas and a Brand New Year. 

Press Release: A Lynn Carol

Sedgeford folk music-storytelling combo The Penland Phezants have released a Christmas carol especially for and about Lynn.  The carol embraces the timeless message of Christmas by linking Lynn across 600 years. 

The writer of the first autobiography in English the mystic Margery Kempe lived all her life on the Lynn waterfront at the turn of the 15C. In her "Book of Margery Kempe", she describes many extraordinary visions of love and joy including one in which she hears the Holy Ghost as a robin redbreast singing merrily in her right ear!

The Phezants bring this story timelessly into the present amid the Christmas rush as follows. 

Now starry angels on the tree 
Grow larger in the dusk 
To heaven-blue and Eden-green 
And gold and reindeer-musk. 

And what was heard by Margery, 
The Visionary of Lynn, 
Rings out on tills for checkout girls 
Who hear that robin sing. 

The only gift left on the shelf, 
That nothing else can rise above, 
Includes all treasures, lasts forever, 
And grows when shared with others: love. 

The carol was enjoyed by a packed Lynn Minster when it was performed by a full cast as part of "Skirting Heresy: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe" last September.

The CD "Songs for Skirting Heresy" with songs (including the two featured here) about Lynn through the ages is on sale at True's Yard fisherfolk museum or online at:

Elly Griffiths at West Acre Theatre (Review)

As we come up to Christmas 2018, I remember my favourite gift from last year -  "The Crossing Places" by Elly Griffiths. First in a long detective series set in North West Norfolk! For the next three months I blissfuly followed Ruth Galloway (and her enchanting infant daughter Kate) through the entire series, devouring each book and hungry for the next. (Like many Griffths' fans I can't wait for the eleventh instalment, due out next year.) So I was overjoyed when the author herself came to my neck of the woods and a Lynn newspaper sent me to review the event. Here is that review, exactly as published, but now made available online for the first time. 

Meet the Author - Elly Griffiths 

West Acre Theatre

Part of LitFest 2018 Summer of Literature, this prestigious event at a welcoming venue situated in the timeless Norfolk Griffths writes so well, handed her the hard task of following her own Ruth Galloway novels. This reviewer began The Crossing Places, the first, last Christmas Day and finished the tenth, hungry for more, by Easter. Thankfully, Griffiths' larger than life presence, performance energy and stock of personal stories held the audience - from old hands to young admirers - in thrall. It was an impressive reminder of her easy mastery of the modern gothic hook to see how her reading aloud the prologue of the most recent Galloway novel, The Dark Angel, caused those who hadn’t read the novel to gasp, then laugh. They will certainly read it now. Absorbing, too, were insights into her professional life in publishing, her Italian antecedents and her engagement with the audience about who might play her archaeologist heroine and rugged male lead in prospective TV dramatisations of the novels. Ruth Jones and Richard Armitage - and Rhys Ifan for Cathbad- were well-received suggestions.  The author opined that plot adaptations are acceptable but energetically resists proposals in which characters are changed - the novels, she explains, germinate from the archaeology, of which Norfolk is so full; the police story follows. And she absolutely insists on the Norfolk setting, a relief to we who found this most interesting aspect of those Alan Hunter 'Gently' novels unforgivably moved by TV to Durham.