For this week’s R&D workshops, Emma Frankland and Mydd Pharo are joined by Kellan Frankland, Krishna Istha, Mzz Kimberley, and Nadia Nadarajah in and around Truro (based at the Hall of Cornwall, thanks to their support) for a week looking at Galatea’s Gods and their divine interactions: Neptune, Venus, her son Cupid, and Diana and her society of nymphs. Thanks must go again to the Jerwood Foundation for their funding of the week.
The week began by settling “into the room,” which was laid up with fresh fruit and vegetables of all kinds, party poppers, glitter, and gold plates.
The banquet was the scene for staging Galatea in miniature, using Lego-like figures and working from short scene descriptions. It was uncanny how closely some of the off-the-cuff dialogue matched the play’s own language (only two of the performers had worked on the play at last year’s workshops); it’s testament to the conversational quality of Lyly’s dramatic writing, as well as the dramatic minds of our players….
Besides being at times rather beautiful and often very funny, this Lyly-in-miniature also added to the sense of a playworld in which certain individuals have the power to move themselves in and out, to take control, to be several hundred times larger than the “props” with which they play.
Neptune promises, “I will into these woods and mark all, and in the end will mar all” (2.2.26-28); Venus boasts, “What is to love, or the mistress of love, unpossible?”(5.3.154); Diana exerts her power over non-mortals, too, threatening Cupid, “I will teach thee what it is to displease Diana, distress her nymphs, or disturb her game [of hunting]” (3.4.94-96); and Cupid himself, captured, is forced to play with the knots of human relationships: “Come, Cupid, to your task. First you must undo all these lovers’ knots, because you tied them” (4.2.21-22)—he proves, though, that true love’s ties cannot be undone: “Love knots are tied with eyes, and cannot be undone with hands; made fast with thoughts, and cannot be unloosed with fingers (ll.26-29). While his meddling in human affairs is not shown, here, to undo their affections, he manages earlier in the play to lull Diana’s nymphs into desire, expressed in similar imagery: “EUROTA. I confess that I am in love, yet know not what it is. I feel my thoughts unknit, mine eyes unstayed, my heart I know not how affected (or infected)…” (3.1.49-51).
The sense of puppeteering instilled in us all a certain divine power that will happily translate to the rest of the week’s exploration of godly quarrelling and its consequences. It also adds particular charge to the navigations of power and decision-making that fall to the assembly of the gods in the final scene, which ultimately sees Venus (with the consent of Diana and Neptune) condone the love of the two central female characters, Phillida and Galatea. The limits of divine ability are tested when it comes to the gods’ and the mortals’ ambiguous resolutions to questions of gender identity, social expectation, and “love”—questions at the heart of this production’s exploration of Galatea.
The run-through of the play’s narrative also gave us a chance to visualise the action, taking it off the page. Nadia is a deaf actor working in British Sign Language, and one feature of the various modes of “play” that characterise these Galatea R&Ds is the movement across several forms of language, embodiment, and mediation. Nadia pointed out during Galatea-in-miniature that such practice is “deaf-friendly,” in the sense that it helps to work the play from text into a visual medium that chimes well with, for instance, British Sign Language itself. For everybody in the room, it added a sense of the depth of the playworld, its spatial forms and possibilities, but re-articulating the play in this manner also prompted us to think about its dramaturgical and narrative structures, its characters’ relationships, and … fruit.
Having meddled in the lives of a plastic population, the gods took their swagger out into the city of Truro. We rounded off the day in the park, turning these figurines into human figures by staging a silent face-off between Venus and Cupid and Diana and her nymph.
As has been observed several times during these weeks, these gods are in many respects “mundane”—their arguments are domestic, their spitefulness sometimes petty. In the play, these sphere-dwelling celestials find themselves in humble Humberside, complaining about each other as though they were in a kitchen sink drama… This soap-opera quality is something that the rest of the week will no doubt explore further.
In the meantime, we can agree with Hebe, whose words before her attempted sacrifice (see the pictures above) seem particularly apt when articulated (via Nadia) by a lego-person: “…the gods will have it so, whose powers dally with our purposes.”