The Berkshire Giant
THE BERKSHIRE GIANT by Macnas, produced by Corn Exchange Newbury
Sunday 17th June 2012: Giant Fair and Procession, Aldworth Village
Weds 20th June: The Summoning, Snelsmore Common
Saturday 23rd June: Giant Parade, Northbrook Street, Newbury
Newbury Corn Exchange celebrated the strange legend of the escaped Aldworth Giant with a collaboration with Macnas. This included an Aldworth village ‘Giant Fair’; a magical evening of rituals on Snelsmore Common; and a Giant Parade through Newbury. A whole host of creative community involvement took place in the run up to the events.
The Aldworth Giant Fair, a village fete style event, took place from 12 – 4pm on the village green, with outdoor storytelling and performance inspired by ‘The Sorry Tale of John Ever Afraid’; giant games; storytelling and live folk music.
Visitors could squeeze into Aldworth’s tiny St Mary’s church where nine, seven foot tall stone statues of the La Beche family lie, a notable local family in the 14th century, whose bodies are buried in the church and its grounds. The La Beche family are known as the Berkshire Giants, because their statues are said to be life sized. The statues were vandalised and badly damaged during the Cromwell regime, and one disappeared altogether - the statue of John Ever Afraid, who was said to have sold his soul to the devil for earthly riches – the mysterious inspiration for this series of Berkshire Giant events.
It was announced partway through the proceedings that the giant had escaped and was on the loose.
On Solstice evening, ‘The Summoning’ took place. The audience was invited to take a ten minute walk over rough, boggy terrain. Ancient drums and magic incantations were performed to invoke the animal spirits of the land and summon help for John Ever Afraid, protecting the giant.
Finally, John Ever Afraid walked through to the streets of Newbury in a parade featuring the impressive giant puppet, with families joining the procession. John wore antlers and had moving eyes, and was surrounded by an entourage of stilt walking, crow-like figures and a brass band.
The event and puppets were created at Unit 300, the precurser to 101.
In the run up to the event, local primary schools ran arts projects, and there were poetry writing competitions and craft workshops. Participatory video company, Real Time, worked with groups of young people to create their own films inspired by the myth of a giant on the loose in West Berkshire. There were flag making workshops for the parade, and a series poetry workshops for adults at Corn Exchange Newbury led by poet Steve Larkin.
Galway based Macnas have toured the world since 1986, including performing with U2; at the MTV awards; making work for the Galway 2020 European City of Culture; and at festivals. They bring large scale images, storytelling, spectacle and 'brilliant chaos' to the streets, often inspired by myths and legends.