Exciting day! Spent two hours with Janet Whiteside who is playing the Albatross. We looked at how the Albatross’ presence in the production could enhance the central message of the poem about the environment and our relationship to it. The Mariner, when he has finished telling his story says:
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns…
I have always had this idea that the Mariner might go for several months with a relatively normal life: sleeping, eating, talking to friends, carrying with him, calmly, the memory of the experiences he had at sea. But then one day at an uncertain hour, perhaps at the check-out at Tesco’s, he would suddenly sense that he was being watched. He would look behind him and scan the faces of strangers. It would be like someone had called his name. He would look left and right down the row of check-outs and there, standing with her shopping at another till, would be a familiar figure – an old lady perhaps, in a coat and soft hat, with a thoughtful face and penetrating eyes. Maybe no one else could see her except the Mariner. Maybe, to others, she just seemed just like an ordinary old lady should. But to the Mariner she meant something else. She would smile and maybe nod her head. He would feel his heart burn slightly and he would know that soon that time would come when he would have to tell his story. Because that old lady in the coat and soft hat, with the thoughtful face and penetrating eyes is really the old soul of the albatross. She is a warning and a reminder of the beautiful bird that he had killed. She is part of the earth and of the strange world of invisible natures that inhabit the universe. She is the ghost of the Albatross.
The next day, sitting on the bus, perhaps coming back from the docklands where he now works, he would feel the burn more strongly and know , without needing to turn around, that she is sitting on the seat behind him in her soft hat and with her umbrella across her lap. The time has come he would think. My tale must be told… From that point on he would be searching for the one to whom he could speak.
This is the imagined little back story I have for the Albatross and one that Janet and I explored this morning. She brings a dignity and benevolence to the role which is why we asked her to take part and it was great today to share these ideas with her in more detail and to hear her positive response. She will be dressed in pale clothes like the feathers of an Albatross and we worked out how, during the course of the performance, she might travel amongst the audience, distributing white feathers to the children and marking their faces with white paint. As if she were leaving her message with them too. As the Mariner speaks and the children and audience listen the central idea of the poem is communicated and so the feathers, small tokens or reminders of that idea, are spread amongst them.
Janet made the very good and worthwhile point that as well as the specific themes in the poem of the environment and our relationship to nature, perhaps it could also be read as a call upon us to be kind – to nature sure, but also to each other. The Environment – of forests and air and icecaps and seas needs our kindness but so too does the environment around us – our society, our friends and more importantly perhaps the people we don’t know, the innumerable strangers that make up the environment we live in. I thought this was a wonderful point and a valuable idea to take from the poem. One that I think she will convey implicitly.
Then she, Lucy, the brilliant assistant director and I went to meet Toby and the puppet that he and a colleague had been making. On the floor on Spirit Level at the RFH in large pieces lay DEATH. Limby and hollow with a hat and spectacles he had yet to be animated by the children at Heathbrook Primary School but he certainly looked quite capable of coolly severing the strings above the heads of the mariners aboard the Mariner’s ship. Can’t wait to get him on his feet.
Filed under: Ancient Mariner | Tagged: albatross, Ancient Mariner, janet whiteside, London Literature Festival, Southbank Centre | Leave a Comment »