By Gail Borrow

A 12th century adventure writer, a 21st century audience. ExploreTheArch reopens on Thursday 1st July with twelve performances of Spirited, an outdoor production inspired by the lai folk tales of Marie de France – a medieval woman recognised as the earliest British female author.

The performers are gearing up for the promenade performances, and the innovative backstage team are preparing socially distanced seating, specially designed to shelter viewers from hot sun or cool rain. The event will be viewed from around the outside of the extraordinary ExploreTheArch venue, Archer Lodge, in Charles Road, St Leonards-on-Sea.

Alice Beadle
CREDIT: Gail Borrow

Marie de France trail-blazed as a best-selling author in her century, offering a kaleidoscope of heroes – a youth uninterested in love, a woman who says something she regrets and a steady partner who is a closet werewolf three days a week – all pushing boundaries to honour their unconventional selves in adventures, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Spirited was originally scheduled for winter solstice 2020 but, with Tier 4 restrictions calling a halt to the run, the multi-disciplinary team have welcomed the opportunity to rework the show for midsummer. 

“We’ve focused on aspects of these visceral tales that have stuck in our minds through lockdown,” director Gail Borrow explains, “the ‘remember that bit where’ sections. It is how memory prefers to be provoked. Our magnified moments are vivid sections of text that we have realised are furnished with lyrical detail, which makes us feel that Marie de France had ‘favourite bits’ too.

The contemporary view of medieval book production tends to be of monks bowed assiduously over manuscripts, but there is a forgotten history of women at work: research confirms female scribes signed their work – and much unsigned work could have been created by women. Recent finding of
lapis lazuli, the precious, ultramarine pigment, in a woman’s teeth buried at a German monastery, strengthens the case for a female workforce.
“Who hasn’t put the wrong end of a pen or paintbrush in their mouth as they looked at their work?” reflects visual artist and performer Erica Smith.

For more information on Spirited, head to the company’s website which contains information on ticket booking, Covid-19 policy and free tickets for children: explorethearch.com


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