100 days – and counting down…

January 15, 2010

100 days until we’ve done the final performance of The Southwark Mysteries in Southwark Cathedral.

100 days until I’ve more of less – God and Mother willing – done my job as a producer and can get back to being a mystic poet and shamanistic performer.

Because this all started way back in the last millennium, on the 23rd November 1996 – well, long before that, in truth, time out of mind! – when I received the first poem from The Goose, the spirit of a medieval prostitute who claimed her bones her been recently unearthed at the Crossbones graveyard through the mediumship of John Crow my trickster alter ego:

For tonight in Hell they are tolling the bell
for the Whore that lay at the Tabard
and well we know how the carrion crow
doth feast in our Crossbones graveyard *

A kind of automatic writing, a channelling of something ancient yet all around me in my south london neighborhood, the breath of the unquiet dead at my shoulder, keeping me up all night transcribing The Goose’s journey with John Crow – a journey that began in mind, in vision, through time, through the ages of Southwark past, present, future; then became a physical journey, as The Goose led John Crow and I through the back-streets of Southwark ‘Crossbones to Clink by Mary Overie dock’, past the rusty iron gates to a desolate works-yard, where the souls of the outcast dead, and The Goose their cheif, sang that night:

I was born a Goose of Southwark
by The Grace of Mary Overie
whose Bishop gives me licence
to Sin within The Liberty.
In Bankside stews and taverns
you can  hear me honk right daintily
as I unlock the hidden door
unveil the Secret History

I will dunk you in the river
and then reveal my Mystery.  *

By the morning, these songs, these verses had incorporated themselves in a weirdly coherent narrative: The Book of The Goose. Within months, they had proved theirprophetic nature: those red iron gates The Goose had led us to, they were the gates to a works yard on the site of Crossbones – a burial ground for Victorian paupers and before that – allegedly, time out of mind – for prostitutes, “single women”, Winchester Geese: for such women were licensed by the medieval lord of the manor, the Bishop of Winchester, to ply their oldest profession within Bankside’s ‘Liberty of the Clink’.

And yes, I had known about The Liberty of the Clink, outside the law of The City of London, where the ladies were licensed by the Bishop, under Ordinances, signed in 1161AD (by Thomas Becket, later Saint Thomas, no less!) But I hadn’t known about the Crossbones graveyard – nor that it had recently been dug up, and 148 skeletons removed, during work on the Jubilee Line Extension.

And that was only the beginning of an extraordinary sequence of coincidences and synchronicities that contrived to convince me that The Southwark Mysteries was unlike anything I’d ever written – that I hadn’t written it, that IT had been written in me, mysteriously gifted from the Astral, and I was now its keeper, and The Goose’s servant.

As The Book of The Goose grew into an cycle of seven (eight, if you count The Book of The Constable) Vision Books. Then The Dean of Southwark Cathedral was looking for an extent London cycle of Mystery plays (as in the medieval mysteries – The York Cycle) and almost before I knew it I was embarking on the daunting task of writing a new Southwark cycle of contemporary mystery plays.

Cut to the Eschaton: The Southwark Mysteries were first performed in Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral on 23rd April 2000, St George’s Day, ‘Shakesperea’s Birthday’ and Easter Sunday.  Inevitably the production raised some controversy, provoking the Daily Telegraph headline: ‘Dean rejects critics of Southwark’s “swearing Jesus” mystery play’ – yet this single performance is talked about until this day. Simon Hughes MP called it “the jewel in the crown” of Southwark’s millennium celebrations and suggested it be revived every 10 days like the famous Oberamergau passion play.

The production helped launch a decade of alternative history walks, drama workshops and site-specific performances which have taken over my life so completely that since 2000 I’ve written shamefully little:  a community opera, lots of poems and songs, but nothing like this…

Meanwhile some people had taken Simon Hughes at his word and, 3 or 4 years back, began encouraging me to promote a new production of The Southwark Mysteries for 2010. I agreed – on condition that I wasn’t the producer. I’d done that back in 2000 – the writer as default producer (that time I’d even been in it, playing my alter ego John Crow) – and it’d nearly finished me off.

But Life – God, the Goose, as you will – had other ideas.

So here am I, racing to file before midnight, my first copy on this blog: 100 days (and counting (down)) of Southwark Mysteries.

This week I haven’t written any new poems or plays.

This week, for instance, I’ve been working with Katie on setting up our ticket sales (online and via Cathedral shop – available from next week – working with our (volunteer) publicity and marketing teams, with our Southwark Cathedral contacts to finalise terms for our use, liaising with venues, school-teachers, funders, writing the notice for the adult community cast – and due to attend professional cast auditions with director Sarah on Sunday – all this whilst we’re still working flat out to firm up the last quarter of our balanced budget.

Once more the default producer!

With some good people to help me, thank you all.

And more to come – as the community cast and crew takes shape – of which more to follow, watch these pages.

And at least this time I’m not in it – God willing!

All part of the work to let go.

* poems from The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable (Oberon Books)

The Southwark Mysteries
by John Constable
directed by Sarah Davey-Hull
Southwark Cathedral
22, 23 24 April 2010 at 7.15 (doors open: 6.45pm)

For bookings and more information:


One comment

  1. May the ladyes be with thee, Strong in flock and heartie of mind, and the lubrication of all that needes to Be, be swiftly and jolly accomplished, with perfeckt magnitude. And so it be.

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