IT is a long way from the blood-stained villages of Bosnia to the peaceful chalk downlands of Salisbury Plain … or is it? Former soldier Zac finds unexpected and uncomfortable memories in Boiling Kettle Theatre Company’s Defender of the Dead, which began an autumn tour at South Petherton’s David Hall.
Zac seems to be your typical ex-squaddie, big, bluff, always got a joke, no truck with hippies and peace women. His mantra is: “There are three ways, the right way, the wrong way – and the Army way.”
His security company has a bit of an odd gig, protecting an archaeological site near Stonehenge where a Bronze Age skeleton has been found beneath a demolished bungalow. It’s big news and the archaeologists – always desperate for funding to keep their digs going – have given the skeleton a name and are hoping to get a publicity boost with the imminent summer solstice and the 2012 Olympics.
Then Zac meets an old friend from Army days, tanned and talking with a mid-Atlantic accent, pushing some New Age stuff and waving a lot of money around.
Once upon a time, back in their soldiering days, Zac won a little clay figure off Gary in a game of poker. It’s a fake, a copy of a little Minoan snake dancer. But now, with the discovery of this skeleton – which has a “snake” carving on a bone – the little dancer may be more important than Zac knows.
It’s a fascinating and unusual new play, by Boiling Kettle’s founder and writer Sian Williams, and directed by Anne Pearson. It’s described as a comedy, but there’s quite a dark side to it.
Are the hippies going to steal the skeleton? Why won’t Dennis the ambitious Scottish archaeologist listen to Zac’s warnings about inadequate fencing around the site? Is Zac being set up? Who is setting him up? Why does he have such terrible nightmares? Can he keep this job so that he can buy his daughter a pony for Christmas? And what is the real truth about the skeleton?
Defender of the Dead takes us in so many directions we don’t know where we will end up – and nor does Zac. In a terrific, multi-faceted, many-voiced performance, the Bridgwater-based actor and storyteller Eltjo De Vries embodies the former NCO who is haunted by events in Bosnia, but also brings to life the neurotic chain-smoking archaeologist Dr Celia, Scottish Dennis, fast-talking Gary and Zac’s worried wife Maria.
It is often very funny; but there are passages which pull you up sharply – memories of the civil war in the Balkans, a shocking burst of gunfire in the midnight darkness of Salisbury Plain.
It is a fascinating play which challenges a lot of assumptions about how we deal with our fears or hide our nightmares from the people we love. It is very funny about the machinations of the archaeologists and the way heritage and religion can be subborned for commercial gain.
Defender of the Dead is now on tour, including dates for Artsreach in Dorset and Take Art in Somerset – 30th September at Stourton Caundle village hall, 1st October at Stockland Victory Hall in East Devon, 8th October at Kilmersdon village hall on the Mendips, 15th October at Wanstrow village hall, 21st October and Newton and Noss village hall in South Devon, 29th October at Luxborough village hall in West Somerset, 11th November at Long Ashton village hall near Bristol, 12th November at the Tin Church, Brokerswood near Frome, 18th November at North Wootton village hall on the Mendips, 19th November at Ashbrittle village hall (Take Art), 25th November at Tarrant Gunville village hall (Artsreach) and 26th November at Shipton Gorge hall (Artsreach).