A New Musical

 

A Daughter’s Tale…a new musical brings Cornwall’s legendary past to life.

 

In Cornwall, myths and legends abound and the line that separates truth and fiction can be as blurry as a mist that descends over Bodmin Moor on a winter’s afternoon. With tales of goodly saints, heroic kings and damsels in need of swashbuckling knights, Cornwall’s mystical past has always been a rich source of inspiration for writers, artists and musicians.

Making its world premiere at the end of the month in the village of St Neot is a new musical that’s got whole community buzzing with scores of local people involved in acting, singing, making props and designing costumes

Based on a centuries old legend, “A Daughter’s Tale” will take the audience back to 858 AD - the Dark Ages, when Britain was a land of warring territories and Cornwall was desperately clinging on to its Celtic independence. King Æthelwulf was the king of Wessex, King Doniert, the last king of Cornwall held court in Liskeard known in old Cornish as the Court of Stags, and somewhere on the edge of Bodmin Moor, a certain saint was working miracles

So with the scene set, the story unfolds weaving fact and fiction in a tale of passion and power, love and freedom. “I’ve always wanted to write a musical for the local community,” says composer and lyricist Nick Hart. “But wanted to find something uniquely different so thought I’d delve deeper into the story of St Neot, the saint the village I have lived in for 40 years is named after." 

Nick knew there was a local legend that the young Prince Alfred, he of the burnt cakes, visited the village to seek out Neot and with a bit more research discovered strong evidence that linked the two men together. “I sought out someone who might know more,” says Nick “And luckily here in the village we have a Cambridge Don, Oliver Padel who was a terrific help in piecing all the historical data together.”

As Nick delved deeper, the characters and plot line started to take shape. Bishop Asser, Alfred’s official biographer, who flatteringly chronicled the king’s life, recorded that Alfred as a young prince visited St Noet’s shrine. “I surmised that if Alfred came to Cornwall, then perhaps he met the man himself, chronologically the dates match,” reveals Nick. “It was also around that time that Doniert was king of Cornwall and it would have been logical and diplomatic for Doniert, tenuously holding on to his kingdom in the face of the powerful Saxons, to welcome the young prince to his court.” 

It was then Nick hit on the idea of what might have happened if the three men had actually met and after two years in the making, “A Daughter’s Tale” is about to take to the stage. The glorious fifteenth century parish church in St Neot will act as the auditorium and Canoryon Lowen, a mixed choir formed by Nick ten years ago provide the bulk of the cast along with a six piece orchestra. “We have had great support from the local community, Sterts Theatre have been wonderful in lending their support and we have had financial help from both FEAST (the Cornwall community arts project) and the Arts Council and the Reverend Andrew Balfour has been so accommodating in letting us rearrange the seating to create a performance area in the church,” says Nick.

The part of Alfred’s biographer Bishop Asser is played by Tim Coombe who says he’s rising up to a demanding role. “As Asser functions as narrator, the music is challenging but I’m really excited to be in such an interesting project. Let’s face it: we’re in a world premiere here!” he laughs. 

Neot himself is played by local farmer and renowned soloist Colin Arthur. Born and bred in the village, Colin says he’s honoured to be playing the part. “Playing St Neot here in St Neot and being a St Neot boy myself is a real privilege,” he says.

Alongside the real historical characters is Lethelt, the daughter in the title, a pure figment of Nick’s imagination, “I felt there should be a love story” explains Nick. “And without giving away too much of the plot, she has a few secrets to reveal and it’s her relationship between St Neot, Alfred and Doniert that that adds the fictional spark to the factual story.”

Taking the role of the Lethelt is mum of three Bianca Philips whose feisty performance as an independent young woman in a mediaeval world dominated by men is pivotal to the show. Bianca trained at Trinity College of Music and now teaches music in Looe and Tavistock but singing is her real passion. “When Nick asked me to audition for the cast, I jumped at the chance, it’s a brilliant role to sing and I just love being involved this kind of project.”

Bringing the whole stage production together, director Olwyn Foot says she’s thrilled to be involved. “It’s an extremely exciting take on a very old story and what’s so great is that the whole community is behind the project researching and sharing skills in making authentic props, costumes and indeed one cast member has made a superb Saxon lyre based on one found at Sutton Hoo. The village WI are making hunting banner, purses and belts of the period, some children from St Neot School are taking part in the production and it’s really nice to see everyone fired up - it’s the mark of a real community where everyone’s using their creativity to produce something quite unique.”

With instantly likeable ballads, rollicking chorus numbers and lyrics which intelligently and seamlessly carry the story to its conclusion “A Daughter’s Tale” could possibly be Cornwall’s answer to “Les Miserables”.  But does it all end happily? “It all ends hopefully on a very positive note,” laughs Nick. “It’s the sheer strength of character of a girl who stands up for what she believes in in a man’s world that shines through.”

Performances are March 29-31 St Neot Parish Church.  Info: www.stneotmusic.com

Tickets £10 waged/ £7.00 unwaged

Ticket available from www.sterts.co.uk or phone 01579 320683

This article first appeared in the 2012 March edition of Cornwall Today