GEOFFREY Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written between 1387 and 1400 and detailing stories of pilgrims on the road from London to Canterbury, have spawned probably hundreds of other stories and plays, but none more heartfelt and natural than Adrian Harding’s Stepping on my Shadow, which has its premiere in Yeovil this week.
Adrian has been acting, directing and helping in amateur dramatic productions in Yeovil, Sherborne and around for decades, during which time he has met and made many friends. Lots of them wanted to be in this play, which he wrote after his own first walk of the Camino de Santiago in 2017. It is based on people he has met and stories he has heard, interspersed with “Camino classics and shaggy dog tales for humour.”
It follows both the 500 mile route from Roncesvalles in Navarre to Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of St James are kept in the magnificent cathedral, and also the tradition of pilgrims telling their stories that was immortalised by Chaucer.
Adrian’s play is set very clearly in the 21st century. His pilgrims, few of whom are walking for the old-style religious reasons, bring their own modern concerns and morals to their long walk. Some dip out on the way in search of a comfortable bed. Some have willing hearts but not-so-able bodies. Some find what they are looking for, and some never quite discover what it is.
But Stepping on my Shadow is a rich, funny, poignant experience for the audience as it was for the participants, vibrantly brought to life in Yeovil by a talented and extraordinarily natural cast. Congratulations, too, to the technical team. The theatre’s new back-projection screen, masterminded by Graham House, enabled Jennifer Lawson’s evocative watercolours of her Camino in 2016 to be used as the backdrop to the adventure.
The theme is Walk, Sleep, Eat, Repeat. The friendships made are unexpected and lasting. Adrian Harding makes a guest, and unlisted, appearance as the man who stamps the passes at the start of the journey. The walkers are Brian Williams as narrator Geoff from Sherborne, Gary Hewitt as French Francois, Liam Beard as Spaniard Pablo the comedian, Tanya Ogden as German Ingrid, Sian Spencer as fragile Carol, Sally Matthews as Scottish Jackie, Iszy Harvey and Nicky Hewitt as Danish Christiana and Puk, Chris Richards as Texan Jack, Graham Booth and Samantha Elgar as Australians Patrick and Sara and David Pileri as Giovanni. As they walk they consider politics, religion, health, both mental and physical, love, sex, farming, food, ghosts … all those things you might share – or avoid – with old friends and family.
It is long, as is the road, but worth the effort, and each of the actors manages to create the tension and surprise needed from a good story. Thanks, Graham, and thanks to the Swan and director Mark Payne for staging this unique show.