Sunday, 12 June 2011

Stirring memories of CROSS AND FIRE

If you folks can forgive yet another indulgence of mine, here are some old but very fond memories - photographic stills from my first ever drama to be professionally produced.

CROSS AND FIRE is set in the fortress of Rouen in 1431, and tells the tale of four English men-at-arms who volunteer to form the execution detail for Joan of Arc. Each of them has his own reason for undertaking such a grim duty, but ultimately all feel comfortable in the knowledge that they are doing God's work in burning a witch. Only later on (in the second act), as a terrible realisation dawns that they might actually have burned a saint, do each man's personal demons come roaring to the surface. And when it finally transpires that, in the midst of the execution, as the flames licked at Saint Joan's chained body, Piers - the most embittered of the foursome - handed the unfortunate girl a crucifix, there is an eruption of anguish and violence ...

CROSS AND FIRE was originally intended for radio, but had its first production on stage, in the round, in the Water Heyes Studio, Wigan Little Theatre, in April 1991. It was directed superbly by top RSC man, Chris Robert, and starred John Churnside, John McCabe, Ian Cunningham and Richard Fisher, who all gave hair-raisingly intense performances. The Water Heyes is a very close theatrical environment. For most of the time the actors were within arm's reach of the audience, so there was no opportunity for any of them to 'take a break'. The set was dressed with rags, filth and straw, not to mention heavy concrete flagstones, to create the aura of a dungeon, and during the burning sequence, which happened offstage, the audience were subjected to real smoke and and the stench of charring flesh. To this day it remains one of the most satisfying experiences of my literary life.

Above, Piers (John McCabe), the leader of the doomed band and the one most culpable for their inevitable fate. Below, in descending order, Falcon (John Churnside) explains to Alain (Ian Cunningham) that wars are won through ruthlessness rather than chivalry; Edwin (Richard Fisher) reacts with horror as the truth dawns that they have just torched one of God's chosen, and that their souls are now damned.

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