Writer: David Rudkin
Director: Jack McNamara
These stories by David Rudkin are hard to categorise. Standing somewhere between ghost story and New Nature Writing, Rudkin’s homage to the British landscape is eerie, and unexpected. Over ten episodes ranging from 20 minutes to 70 minutes, time collapses and we walk among Stone Age men, Romans, Crusaders and Puritans. Most of the tales are dark; an Ulster loch casts spells on a boy out on his bicycle and the plague speaks as it decimates a Derbyshire village. Spiritual, but still singing of the earth, PlacePrints is a gripping series.
The locations in the stories are already haunted by past events and so playwright Rudkin gives voice to these spectres and buildings that are layered with history. In the second of the series, Off The Motorway, a church speaks to us, relating how it lured a motorist, spotting the church from a distance, to change direction and go through country lanes in search of it. When the motorist arrives, the church holds a secret so staggering that you’ll be searching the internet for verification.
Another episode, There Is No Sea, is narrated by an actor in the present day who is researching the Scottish woman she is meant to play in a monologue. Margaret Wilson was tied to a stake in a tidal river and drowned when the sea came in for not swearing allegiance to the King in 1685. The actor imagines this martyrdom and Rudkin’s well-chosen words, detailed and precise ensure that we too witness the tide coming in, water seeping up through the sand.
Other stories are not so dramatic; in Nemeton Rudkin outlines the short walk from a road in Cornwell to a pagan well. The path is overgrown with wild flowers, all of which are named and described in such detail that they seem to brush against our own shoulders. However, this path has been lost in the efforts to make this ancient site more accessible to tourists, and so Rudkin suggests there is a double loss here; the meaning of the well and the ancient route there.
In other hands these stories would be shorn of unnecessary words and repetitions, but fortunately Rudkin is not an economical writer, and his style lends these stories atmosphere together with the sound design by Adam McCready. The wind, church bells, buoy bells, birdsong and the lapping of waves are sensitively produced, and never overwhelm the story they accompany.
PlacePrints is a joint venture between New Perspectives Theatre and The Space, and they have enlisted an impressive group of actors to narrate these stories. Stephen Rhea plays the boy enchanted by Loch Neagh in which seems to be Rudkin’s most autographical piece. Other stories are narrated by actors such as Michael Pennington, Juliet Stevenson, Toby Jones and Josie Lawrence, and all give sterling performances.
These stories deserve careful listening, perhaps through earphones out in the British countryside that Rudkin celebrates. And like the countryside, PlacePrints is full of mystery and wonder. This is not Constable country, however, with its peaceful scenes of bucolic life; instead, Rudkin’s country is dark and sometimes vengeful. Take the advice that the Yeats offers in his poem The Stolen Child that Rudkin references in one of his titles: ‘Come away, O human child to the waters and the wild.’
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