The World Begins in Wakefield
Francesca Turner on the birth of a great piece of community theatre.

The Guardian
3 July 1988

For the last month Wakefield has been seething with artistic activities and events - anything from cake sculpture and busking kite flying and pavement painting - to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its charter. And for three days this week 400 people - three quarters of them children - have taken over Wakefield cathedral for performances of Gary Carpenter's atavistic musical epic of creation: Mythologies.

This spectacular work by Wakefield's composer-in-residence is a journey through the great creation myths of the Rig Veda, Navaho, Maori, ztec, Aftrican, Chinese and the Bible to show that since our beginnings we have all addresed the same enigma and wondered at the same night skies.

To express the enormity of his theme, Carpenter uses 150 instruments from full brass band to Northumbrian pipe ranged stereophonically round the cathedral so that sound gushes from behind pillars, pours down from the vaultings and ricochets off the stage glass.

Each myth is performed, basically, by one school but they interact and overlap from time to time so that action and music pool in different areas of the cathedral's immensity.

Catalysed by professionals from local opera and dance companies, the cast, musicians, mask costume, props, puppets and banner makers have created an experience which was, for me, more theatre in the accepted sense of a performance but nearer a rite which we all shared.

This wasn't just a matter of numbers - a Last Night of the Proms syndrome - but rather a combination of sound, image, movement and energy which actually triggered unconscious memories and feeling so that we began, in a frightened sort of way, to participate in our mythmaking.

Despite problems with the amplification system which distorted the narrator's diction, this community opera was the most powerful theatrical (for want of a better word) experience I've ever had to the extent that the prospect of sitting throught more conventional kinds of drama now leaves me feeling brittle and emptily sophisticated.

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