Prepare to meet the gods
- Credit: Archant
Eastern Angles will be taking us back to our Saxon past this month when they stage the Norse epic Ragnarok at RAF Bentwaters. Andrew Clarke spoke to writer Charles Way
Eastern Angles, the Suffolk-based touring theatre company, knows that the history and the heritage of East Anglia makes for first-class drama.
Over the years they have pursued Margaret Catchpole from Shingle Street to Australia, been chased by Black Shuck, recreated the changing people of Rendlesham Forest who lived at the junction of Bentwater Roads, have gone into battle with Boudicca, they have welcomed home the herring fleets of Lowestoft and charted the changes in the countryside in a series of plays based around The Reapers Year.
In 1997, they embraced Suffolk’s biggest historical legacy in The Wuffings, a massive site-specific production which looked at the life and death of the great Saxon King Raedwald, who is said to be interred in the Sutton Hoo ship burial.
This huge production, staged at Nottcutts warehouse in Parham, near Wickham Market, proved to be a huge success and now Eastern Angles are looking to return to the county’s Anglo-Saxon heritage with another epic, Ragnarok.
Whereas The Wuffings was all about Suffolk’s early residents living alongside the River Deben, Ragnarok is all about their gods – the Norse deities of Thor, Odin and the duplicitous Loki.
Written by Eastern Angles regular Charles Way, who penned The Long Way Home, the play looks at the intrigues and double-dealing that shaped the turbulent lives of the Norse gods.
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Speaking as rehearsals were about to get under way Charles said it would be a spectacular looking production that would blend great puppets with live action, with everything set against a vast backdrop provided by The Hush House on the former RAF Bentwaters airbase.
He said: “It’s a large scale piece of epic theatre. Ragnarok, means the Twilight of the Gods, and the story details the end of their kingdom – in the end it destroys itself.
“We don’t deal with any human beings. In Wagner’s take on these stories it’s very much about the gods and their relationship with men. Our story is about the gods’ internal workings. It’s their story and how they relate to one another. It’s all set on Asgard, which is the Citadel of the Gods. This is where Odin lives. It is his kingdom. This is where the hall of Valhalla is situated – and it’s about the power struggle within their family dynasty. It’s a big Game of Thrones type battle except the gods have superpowers. They are larger-than-life figures who are constantly fighting another race of giants. They are constantly at war and their universe is in constant turmoil.”
One of the fascinating elements of the play is that the seeds of Valhalla’s destruction are sown very early on with the death of Alder, this perfect god and son of Odin.
“Odin doesn’t want his kingdom to fall, he is aware that the end is coming and yet he is utterly incapable of preventing the inevitable.
“It’s rather like the lead up to the First World War. It has a lot of analogies with that. How do we get ourselves ready for worldwide Armageddon? We don’t want it to happen but how to we prepare for the inevitable? This is the question the play is posing.”
He added that, as with many historic stories, they contained warnings to the listener about humanity’s character flaws.
“Odin is capricious, Loki is devious and there is betrayal and the stories are full of the type of things you would pick up in any court – greed, ambition, lust – it’s all there. There is murder and treachery at every turn.
“Every human weakness is there but what I have tried to do – the irony of the play is that Odin knows that his world is going to come to an end, but every time he tries to delay, by some mishap, he manages to bring the end closer.”
Eastern Angles founder Ivan Cutting is handing over the direction for this play over to Hal Chambers, a director who has done large-scale pieces of work with puppets before.
“The giants, who are the mortal enemies of the gods, will be portrayed by puppets. We don’t have a cast of thousands, so we have to find other colourful and inventive ways of creating these strange creatures.
“We thought that puppets would be a good way of realising these people, so we went to the Hal with this kind of possibility in mind and he jumped at the idea.”
He said that having created a Saxon epic, it seems odd not to have a ship burial for the big funeral scene.
“In the play, our ship isn’t buried in the earth, in classic fashion it is launched out on to the water and fire arrows are aimed at it and the whole craft is set ablaze. It’s rather like the death of Arthur. The whole play has that mythical feel to it. It’s a genuine family drama which reconnects us all with our roots.”
Ragnarok, by Charles Way, will be staged by Eastern Angles at The Hush House, RAF Bentwaters, from September 11-28.