The men do some strange things over in Lancashire. They wear fancy straw hats with real flowers in them; they dance in lace-up shoes with wooden soles and they celebrate something called The North West Rush Cart Tradition by building and decorating a tall cart with rushes upon which they place a saddle and one of them is brave enough to climb up onto the top of this cart with a kettle on a rope – don’t ask! At least they did in 1914 – 1915 when this play was set.
Written especially for Northern Broadsides Theatre Company ‘An August Bank Holiday Lark’ is based on a rural village in Lancashire where the cotton mill rules but the old traditions still continue.
Commissioned to write a suitable play as a Remembrance for the World War I Centenary Deborah McAndrew has produced a winner. There is music and dancing and humour and traditional customs and, I’m afraid, needless to say, tragedy as well. The title is taken from a line in Philip Larkin’s poem ‘MCMXIV’.
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day—
And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Back in November last year I wrote about my great uncle Marshall Howman who was killed at Gallipoli in August 1915. The lads in this story enrol in the 6th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment which in real life suffered many casualties and great loss of life in the ill-fated August Offensive in the Dardanelles in 1915 .
It is currently showing at The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, which where I saw it this afternoon, but will move around the country for the next couple of months.