Dumb Show waswritten specifically for the music theatre group Vocem and especially for the singer/dancer/actors Alan Belk and Fran Lynch. The workis radical in my output of music theatre.
The Anglo-Saxon poems are drawn from The Riddles of the Exeter Book and reveal a dream world of resemblances and crossed identities, full of shapes unknown, surreal and enchanted. I was reminded forcibly of the painter Magritte: a man with one eye and twelve hundred heads, a bird that sings through her wriggling foot, a cock-like Christ, an onion and a key pushing and throbbing for attention “full under shirt”. Of the ninety or so riddles I chose six: urine, loom-shuttle, key, mimic sing-bird, rune-maker, and onion. In re-creating the warmth, wit, bawdy fantasy, magic and joy, I’ve tried to create something very new out of something very old. Rune-maker is delivered in modern English and tells of the magic of words that heal separation. The remainder are delivered in Anglo-Saxon.
No matter: the vocal qualities and specific choreographed actions render meanings clear enough.
Dumb Show is performed as if in split-screen with the performers each tied to a square grid 8’ x 8’. The upstage percussionist/puppet master plays dance-band kit and his stick actions are coordinated with the activities on stage.