Performances with Bamburgh Bones
About Hazelsong Theatre
The work and the folk of Hazelsong Theatre are rooted in the songs, stories, myth and folklore of the North and the Borderlands and the many cultures that have made the North their home. Hazelsong Theatre create performances which bring together storytelling, music, puppetry, theatre and ritual and all borne of the knowledge that these stories and songs are vital and very much alive. They might stop us in our tracks, break spells that keep us asleep or challenge us in unexpected ways. There is a relationship to be forged and maintained with the forces outside the castle, forces from the deep forest and high moors. That's where Hazelsong is working, at the edge of the village, where the human world meets the wild, and where there is so much at stake.
The Origins of Hazelsong Theatre
This is the tale of how Hazelsong Theatre came to be:
Some years ago James and Andy met, by chance they thought, in a pub in a Hexham called ‘the Heart of Northumberland’. James was reading a book of dragon lore and Andy was preparing dragon’s eyes for mounting in a giant puppet. Their conversation wove itself together from notions of dragon processions, music and street theatre and bringing St George’s Day truly to life with a big dragon.
Years passed, until James received a call from Professor Barbara Ravelhofer of Durham University inviting him and Sam to contribute to a performance of dragon songs, stories and music in the Cathedral. When they arrived at the English Department in Durham Andy was already there, with a giant dragon puppet which had been made by him and Emma Berry, and whose eyes had gazed upon Andy and James all those years ago in Hexham.
Destiny was at work and its insistent call drew Linda and Andy together and then Linda into the troupe.
The four met in the Cumberland Inn in Alston. They shared their experiences of their spirituality and of their connection to the land and its people and the stories of both and they knew that they needed to give voice to these stories. It was then that Hazelsong became, named for the tree which brings wisdom and inspires prophecy and poetry in Celtic myth.
Thus did the work of Hazelsong begin, with a telling and a film of the Ballad of the Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh, a tale of Northumberland and of a dragon. This work continues.
Andy Bates is an archaeologist, a craftsman, a musician, a puppet maker, a writer, and performer. He has walked the hills of Northumberland, its fields and its river valleys for decades. He has listened to the voices of wind and water telling their stories and those of folk long gone and those still vital. He has delved into its earth and has witnessed its cradling of the bones of the ancestors. He dug at the Bowl Hole. For Andy and for the troupe, rock cut spirals and waterfalls are songs waiting to be sung
Linda Richardson is an artist, activist, performer and maker. She holds both the Christian tradition and Celtic land-based spirituality in lively tension in her work and practice. She states, “I think that Aidan is particularly resonating with our work and at this time because he cared about the disenfranchised, the outsider and the poor. He went everywhere by foot and shunned the feasting tables of the rich and wealthy. He is a spiritual being who speaks to our times of upheaval and great change.”
James Gillespie is a Northumbrian musician who is inspired by the wild land and the mysterious history, song and stories of the border country as well as by the tenderness of the human heart. As one of Northumbrian folk duo The Brothers Gillespie he has played over 150 concerts in the UK and beyond. James is a writer of songs, a singer and multi instrumentalist. He is thrilled to be engaged in work celebrating this most potent of times in Northumbria’s past and telling some of the old stories anew.
Sam Gillespie is a Northumbrian singer and guitarist, songwriter and wooden flute player hailing from the village of Wall. With his brother James, he is a member of renowned duo The Brothers Gillespie who have recorded several albums and travelled widely with their music. He draws deep inspiration from the wild places, folk music and myths of the borderlands and the power of music, theatre and other art forms to liberate the heart and imagination and to foster vital connection and community. He is delighted at the invitation to engage with the rich and compelling stories related to Bamburgh’s past which still seem to glow so mysteriously in the present.
Watch a selection of short video performances from Hazelsong Theatre
Our film of 'The Ballad of the Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh' created by Hazelsong Theatre and Archaeosoup for the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering 2021
A film by Sam Gillespie about the Bowl Hole warrior, with words, music and footage by him
A film by Linda Richardson about Northumberland, featuring Hazelsong Theatre, with words by her and an original song by the Brothers Gillespie
King Oswald Whiteblade
The Sword and The Cross
In August, Hazelsong Theatre presented two specially commissioned performances of King Oswald Whiteblade - The Sword and the Cross at St Aidan's Church in Bamburgh.
The play explored King Oswald's time in exile on Iona, his triumphant return to Bamburgh in 634AD and the start of the flourishing of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. The performances, which included traditional music, in old English was a beautiful mingling of folklore and Celtic Christain spirituality.
Andy Bates, from Hazelsong, described the idea behind the play
The early 7th century in Britain was a time of turmoil, a time of warfare and shifting allegiances when pagan fought Christian, when Saxon battled Briton. It was a time of conflict, a time of the sword. But it was also a time of visions and wonders, when holy men and heroes bestrode the land. It was a time when history became legend, and legend became myth. And in this time arose a great king, one who had fled his Northumbrian home as a child and he returned as a man, bearing the blade and the cross, to fight for the peoples and the soul of the kingdom that called for his homecoming. He was Oswald, the Whiteblade.
A selection of images from the production
7th - 8th August 2021, Bamburgh
Taken by Jo Priestly
King Oswald Whiteblade: A Review by Carol Griffiths
Know nothing of ancient Northumbrian history? Or steeped in the history of the Anglo Saxon Saints, and the Dynasty who ruled from Bebba’s Burgh in the 6-8th centuries? Or somewhere in between?
Where ever, I promise you will be swept away by the dramatic, spellbinding, sometimes loud and a bit scary unfolding of the story of the young Oswald, prince then King of Northumbria, set in a mainly pagan landscape where Christianity has just reached.
The Hazelsong performers tell the highly accurate drama of Oswald's youth and fight for his crown (Merlin makes a courtesy appearance!), and the role and creation of his famous sword-you can see the real thing on display in the Armory of Bamburgh Castle, discovered by Bria Hope-Taylor some decades ago in the Saxon West Ward of the Castle).
So brilliant are Hazelsong in evoking a sense of time and place, that you will almost believe in the Dragon, the most effective dramatic and scary ever seen. In fact, very young children will need an adult shoulder to give comfort. Oswald sounding the Hunting Horn in pursuit of Cadwallader is eerie; the specially composed music brings an other-world quality; Queen Acca exudes strength and desperation as she seeks protection from her vengeful brother Edwin.
Don’t miss this! You will remember it long after the actors take their well-deserved applause.