The personification of death in art and mythology is common. Abaddon in the Book of Revelation, Azrael in Islam, Yama in Hinduism even the Santa Muerte in Mexico. These guardians of the underworld are the keepers of the gates into the afterlife, the bringers of doom and the escorts of departed souls. So, let’s just say I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I arranged to meet a party of them, at Heligan the other evening.
Rehearsals for Wildworks’ summer performance 100:Unearth are in full swing, and I have been invited to meet some of the people involved and get a sneak preview of the show!
What strikes me first is the relaxed atmosphere. I arrive just as the angels of death are charging around the participant’s marquee in an enthusiastic warm-up exercise of Keepy Uppy!
Cara, a slight woman with a long plait over one shoulder, stops to talk to me. This is her 3rd performance with Wildworks, and this year she is multi-tasking, taking on two roles as a villager and an angel of death. “I just love it” she tells me. Cara was a participant in the 2014 performance 100: The Day the World Changed, and really felt she needed to be part of this one as a continuation of the journey, a kind of closure perhaps.
As we make our way to the rehearsal location in the heart of Heligan’s Lost Gardens I find myself walking beside Hades, God of the Underworld. He is far chattier and more jovial than I had been expecting.
Nigel Barrett (aka Hades) has been part of the Wildworks family for years. He was part of The Passion in 2011, a show that drew more than 25,000 people to Port Talbot in Wales, nearly doubling the town’s population. When I ask him what it’s like playing a god, he chuckles, “It’s really good actually, a lot of fun, you get to play with it a lot. He is the ultimate capricious god of course” Nigel lowers his voice with godly gravitas. “Shall I have another Martini or shall I smite someone?”
“Of course he does have an important job to do too.”
And that job is to oversee everything in the Underworld. But before the departed souls reach his domain, they must pass the rigorous inspection of the Angels of Death and this is the part of the performance I have come to see in rehearsal.
As I watch it all unfold I realise that it is teamwork and inclusiveness that really makes WildWorks tick. The volunteer participants are vital, integral, to making such an ambitious show happen.
Henry and Elenore are studying English and History at York University, they both agree that being part of 100:Unearth has been very rewarding. “Everyone is far friendlier than I expected” says Henry, “And much less intimidating.”
Elenore agrees “They really talk you through everything, it’s a real learning process for everyone and we all work it out together.”
As the light begins to drop the cast take a well earned break. It’s a chance to drink tea and munch on a biscuit or two and I find myself talking to Celeste and Maya about the show. Celeste, who has studied acting, moved to Cornwall on a whim and just happened to spot a WildWorks poster asking for volunteers. “As soon as I saw it I thought I really want to do this.” I suggest that there was something serendipitous about it and she agrees. “Even though we are volunteers the level of professionalism is so high but more than that you are doing something that you love with people that are so passionate about the same things.”
The Angels of Death are very physical beings, they have a quiet presence and a surprisingly gentle nature. Often they move in an almost symbiotic way, using complicated hand movements and gestures in unison, something the cast were working hard to achieve.
For Maya, who has a background in dance, this is part of the fun. “I like how they have incorporated dance into the show and telling the story through movement.”
This is her first time working with WildWorks but she saw the 2014 performance at Heligan. It left such a lasting impression that she was desperate to be part of 100:Unearth. “It was such an incredible performance I just wanted to be involved in any way I could, even if it was the worst job, I just wanted to be part of something so special!”
The sun is starting to set as we make our way back out of the gardens and I am lost in thought, taking in what I have seen and heard. As I duck under a branch hanging low across the path I recall what Celeste said about being surrounded by people who are passionate about the same things and I look back at the chattering gaggle of performers behind me. The Wildworks cast is made up of so many different characters, professionals and volunteers, young and old, different nationalities and backgrounds but they are all drawn together because they want to tell a story and they want to tell it wonderfully well.
And after tonight I really cannot wait to see the final performance in a few weeks!
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