Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers
There’s an elegant house near us called Wallington Hall, which is owned by the National Trust. I’ve been visiting it since I was little. Of late I’ve mainly wandered round the grounds rather than in the house as I’ve usually had a dog or two with me. The gardens are lovely – wooded walks down to the river, and paths winding round ornamental lakes. There’s also a walled garden which is beautiful at any time of the year – whether bursting with colour in the summertime or thickly covered with snow. A local theatre company called November Club (http://www.novemberclub.org.uk/) has spent months working out a piece of theatre that leads groups around the house – allowing the audience to experience it in a very different way. The cast did a fantastic job in what must have been an immense logistical effort – three groups of 20 odd people, each group having a different tour. I was a zebra, which meant my experience was that of an evacuee from Elswick, ending up at Wallington Hall to escape the bombing of Newcastle. We met all sorts of characters – the Trevelyans, some of their servants, even Sybil Thorndike and saw lots of bits of the house that I’ve never been in before. The rooms we were led through were full of little details – and lots of interesting objects connected with the Trevelyans and their many visitors that we could touch.
My only complaint is that I’d have liked much more time to linger and investigate the rooms and objects – but understandably they are working to a strict timetable ! No group encounters another until right at the end so it feels very intimate. The finale is a tenants’ party in the Great Hall – which is decorated with huge murals by Pre-Raphaelite painter William Bell Scott. My favourite aspect was the idea underpinning the piece, that those who have loved the house – lived there, or visited, remain in the fabric of the place so that you might happen upon them; turn a corner and there they are. I’ve always been fascinated by that; that echoes of us might remain and time – at least, a linear notion of time becomes irrelevant. I keep returning to the idea that you can stand on a spot where you stood ten years ago – and might stand again in ten years time – and how those different selves -past, present, future, are connected. I really liked the way the performance and its ideas had arisen out of a long research process and that its writers/devisers had obviously been really inspired by the history of the family and the house. I’m very tempted to go back and be a teacup next time !