July 15, 2013

Been There, Done That, Got My Name On The T Shirt: Cromwell's Talking Head at Ely Folk Festival

'Cromwell's Talking Head' is a lively rehearsed reading of 30 minutes. It was the first ever spoken word hosted by Ely Folk Festival in July 2013, where it went down like a real ale in a hot marquee. It has an ongoing residency at Oliver Cromwell's House in Ely, bookings at Marriott's Warehouse Upstairs in King's Lynn and the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon and tours pubs, clubs and storytelling venues.

Cromwell's Talking Head is in the horrible history genre and aimed at the naughty kid in all of us. But it's all true - Cromwell the king-killer really was dug up from his 'royal' grave at the Restoration, hung, drawn, quartered and his head stuck on a traitor's pole for 25 years. After centuries of adventures in freaks shows and dodgy museums, bits nicked by trophy hunters, and carrying a legendary curse, the head was authenticated by cranial detectives and in 1960 secretly buried at his old college in Cambridge University. Secretly in case drunken royalist students dig him up again! In the monologue, the head tells the ghastly story and the story of the Civil War to a young grave robber who has dug up more than he bargained for. It's funny, informative and not that comfortable for royal ears. You’ll laugh your head off!

'A triumph of narration and verbal colouring' (Radio Drama Reviews.)

To hear the Siren FM radio production, go to iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-reading-room/id399470470

SEE ALSO: http://garethcalway.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/press-release-jan-15-2014-cromwells.html Cromwell's Talking Head winter tour 2014

At Ely 2013, I enjoyed the support of a youngster in the crowd named Ethan reminding me to hit the triangle at the head of each chapter and got lots of lovely feedback. Cromwell rides again!



14 July is a great date for Republicans in France. But the French don’t have the monopoly on setting up republics and chopping off the heads of tyrannical kings. Our very own Oliver Cromwell might appreciate his story being told on Bastille Day at this year’s Ely Folk Festival, twenty minutes walk from his old stomping ground and national memorial at Oliver Cromwell’s House, and in the shadow of Ely Cathedral.
The great patriot – “we are English, that’s one good fact” - might point out that he headed up the English Revolution a ‘big hundred’ century before Robespierre and Bonaparte led the French. The humble gentleman farmer Cromwell, first as soldier and then as statesman, combines the positive qualities of both these French leaders. The English Empire he established in the 1650s held a position in the world higher than any other between Agincourt and Trafalgar – 400 years. English (round)heads were held high.
Until the Stuart Restoration in 1660. At this point, Cromwell’s body, preserved and buried (against his wish) in royal state in the tomb of soldier-king Henry VII, was dug up by vengeful royalists, hanged at Tyburn, drawn, quartered, beheaded, and its tooth-smashed, ear-torn head spiked on the roof of Westminster Hall: the punishment meted out by Charles II for beheading his father Charles I in 1649. Cromwell’s head remained on its spike for 25 years, surveying the Great Fire of London and enduring a quarter of a century of English weather, until finally removed by a thunderbolt .
Fire and smoke damage ensued as it was hidden up a chimney by an old soldier (one of the redcoats he and Sir Thomas Fairfax had formed during the Civil War into the victorious New Model Army) and then spent centuries in freak shows and dodgy museums, bits being broken off as souvenirs. The Curse of Cromwell’s Head was said to follow anyone who held it in his possession and gory tales bear witness to this so-called curse.
But the real story is gothic enough. As is the curse. Cromwell is not a great favourite with the royalist view of history and whenever kings were popular, Cromwell’s head was best kept secret. But when the English grew restless again under unpopular and self-indulgent monarchs - such as James II and even for periods of Victoria’s reign – this relic of our only republic became a focus for demands that Cromwell’s progressive politics be honoured.
The relic was validated ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ as Cromwell’s actual head and buried in his old college at Sidney Sussex, Cambridge in 1960. A nearby plaque commemorates the fact but the actual whereabouts are kept secret for fear royalist students might dig it up again. And what a story the head could tell if it talked!
Well now it is. Gareth’s carefully researched dramatic monologue imagines the conversation when a grave robber exhumes the head at midnight. After two sell out performances at the House last year, it will be staged at this year’s festival in Marquee 3 between 2 pm and 2.50 pm on July 14.


Folkspot Radio said...

Well done Gareth. It went down well on Folkspot Radio and at The Gin Trap, Ringstead so I'm not surprised it went well at Ely too.

Andy Wall, Festival Director said...

Wonderful local flavour for our festival

Adrian Tebbutt said...

I recommend listening to Cromwell's Head - it talks a lot of sense!

Well worth the trip to Oliver Cromwell's House to see it.