Review of a performance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
at Birmingham Festival Theatre
story adapted and performed by Dolores Hydock music adapted and performed by PanHarmonium
Dragon Slain at Birmingham Festival Theatre The Southsider Community Paper Six hundred years ago, a "passionately moral and wickedly comic"* poem was penned that still packs theaters with spellbound listeners. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as rendered by storyteller/actress Dolores Hydock and the early music group PanHarmonium, was such a smash that the Birmingham Festival Theatre held the show over for an extra, unpublicized matinee. The matinee crowd itself was close to a full house, a great enthusiasm to see for one of the oldest art forms of all: telling a story. Of course, the live performance of period music could not have been more appropriate, better played or seamlessly integrated into Hydock's web of spoken word.
The PanHarmonium medieval music trio started the show with several 13th and 14th century tunes, taking time to point out interesting quirks or stories about a variety of fascinating instruments. Susan Marchant revealed the recorder (does everybody remember playing little plastic recorders in middle school?) is called such because it was used to train song birds, in essence, to "record" melodies into their repertoire. David Cantrell showed everyone how to work the bellows of a portative organ, and Gilbert Ritchie extolled the raucous virtues of the best named instrument -- the crumhorn.
After the songs, including a round starring guest vocalists and including the audience, Dolores Hydock took over the stage with a strong, versatile presence. An attractive, petite woman, she would sculpt the big air around her with words, physical movements, and projection into the ferocious seven foot green monster. Or, in an instant, draw all the space into the form of a frightened boy facing mortality. Her ingenious use of a single prop, a gauzy green silk scarf, was an example of the best of minimalism, when it surprises the imagination. Together with incidental music and even sound effects from PanHarmonium, Hydock created a charming world of energized and relevant fantasy that one was sorry to have to leave.
*from the introduction to Burton Raffel's translation, one of several used in compiling Hydock's version.