17 March 2014

Sword at Sunset: Dan Lentell of Edinburgh 49 reviews the play

Dan Lentell obviously went to see the play on the same evening we went (26th  February).

' ... Sword at Sunset, based on the best-selling 1963 novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, chronicles the career of Artos from his service as a cavalry commander under his uncle, the British high king Ambrosius, through to his donning of the imperial purple as a later-day Caesar. Incorporating Artos’ seduction by his vengeful half-sister Ygerna; his strategic marriage to Guenhumara; his friendships; his battles; successes and failures, James Beagon’s adaptation would be a very tall order for any company ...'

Now read on.

6 March 2014

Sword at Sunset: the full play on Youtube!

This is a recording of the last night of Bedlam Theatre's production on 1st March 2014:

28 February 2014

Sword at Sunset @ Bedlam Theatre - the trailer and last chance to see ...

This YouTube link to the trailer was tweeted by Anthony Lawton when we (Sandra & Sarah) were both actually in Edinburgh to see the play:

We thoroughly recommend the production, but catch it while you can, as today (Friday 28th February) and Saturday (1st March) are the last two days you can see it.  Go see!

21 February 2014

Sutcliff: Appreciation, July 29th 1992

Rosemary Sutcliff -
Times, The (London, England)
July 29, 1992
Author: Mrs Anna Milford
IN THIS 350th anniversary year of the English Civil War no tribute to Rosemary Sutcliff (obituary, July 25) can be complete without mention of The Rider of the White Horse.

This is surely one of the finest historical novels ever written for adults, and one to re-read again and again with increasing pleasure.

Thomas Fairfax fought against his King for the highest motives, and as Lord General commanded the New Model Army at Naseby. The story is told with such conviction and skill that this surely was how Fairfax's contemporaries, among them Cromwell, saw the ``high flying hawk of the North."

Section: Features
Index Terms: Obituary
(c) Times Newspapers Limited 1992, 2003
Record Number: 995099123

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18 February 2014

Sword at Sunset: tickets now on sale ...

Tickets are now on sale for the play adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's book!  Tickets are available via the Bedlam Theatre's website.

Me and Sarah (plus husbands) will be attending the perfomance on Wednesday 26th February; if you're intending to go then too, please drop us a line if you want to meet up and enthuse about the play and Rosemary Sutcliff!

17 February 2014

Sword at Sunset - the Play - writer James Beagon interviewed

James Beagon has adapted Sutcliff’s 1963 adult novel for the stage. It is to be performed between  25th February to 1st March 2014 at the Edinburgh University’s Bedlam Theatre.  He took time out from rehearsals to answer my questions.

If you have never read Sword At Sunset – WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Please tell us something about your background
I was born in Oxford but moved to Stockport (Greater Manchester, UK) at a young age. I'm currently in my fourth year of an Ancient and Medieval History undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh. graduating this summer.

What has particularly lead up to theatre productions as opposed to fiction, or producing research articles. Or are you somehow finding time to fit one or other of these in?!
I never did anything theatrical in my life bar nativity plays at primary school until I came to university. I saw an opportunity in the Fresher's Week booklet for something called Fresher's Play at Bedlam Theatre, went along to see if I could write for it, ended up acting as well and haven't looked back since. Before I started writing plays at university, my writing tended to come out as short stories and prose fiction whilst I was at school and sixth-form. I haven't done so much of that since the plays began but I do hope to get back to it once I've graduated.

Are you a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels? Did you read them as a child?
I am a very big fan. I read the Eagle of the Ninth trilogy as a child many times and got introduced to Sword at Sunset slightly later on. I've also read The Flowers of Adonis and Dawn Wind

Do you read much historical fiction? If so, which current authors have caught your eye?
The other major historical fiction series I've read is TheRoman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence. I acquired The Thieves of Ostia when I was 11 and diligently ploughed through the next 16 books to the end of the series without shame, even though I had supposedly outgrown them. Other than that, I don't usually go out of my way to read historical fiction - the last time I did was when reading I, Claudius and Claudius the God.

What books have you read recently, fiction or non-fiction
The amount I read for pleasure (as opposed to research) has definitely taken a hit since coming to university but I still endeavour to try. The last book I read cover-to-cover was the biography of Robert Enke over Christmas. I'm currently taking tentative steps into the latest Terry Pratchett book, Raising Steam.

Tell us about the Bedlam Theatre. How do students run a theatre?
Sometimes I wonder myself, but we do manage it pretty well. The Edinburgh University Theatre Company occupies Bedlam Theatre during term-time, whilst also supplying two shows and the majority of the team for when the building is a venue during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In being the largest non-sports society at the university and also with owning a building, the EUTC has to be more organised than the average society. A committee made up of students essentially run the building during the year and the workload for them can be quite intense. Even those outside the committee have a lot on their plates; with a show going up every week during term-time, most people are usually involved with at least one production most of the time. But the society, despite its size, is very close and people are very willing to help each other out at times of need. All of this work is unpaid, but we all immensely enjoy what we do so it doesn't matter.

Tell us about your production of Imperator (on at the theatre in January)
Imperator happened just two days ago as I write this. It was a play about the Emperor Nero, Otho and Poppaea Sabina written in conjunction with my dissertation, based on my readings of the ancient sources and trying to interpret a sense of character and what might have actually happened between the lines of the often anti-Neronian sources. The cast only had two weeks to rehearse with the script due to the Christmas break, but everything went very well. We had a couple of hiccups here and there but the audience response was very positive, particularly from non-Classicists who were pleasantly surprised to find that they understood everything that happened. Which is always a plus.

Have you been involved in any other theatre productions?
Um, yes. A lot over the past four years, both during term-time and the Edinburgh Fringe. I won't bore you by rattling off a list but I've been involved in writing and directing several of my own original plays (about 12/13 now, I think, if you include short pieces), including Four Walls' (****, Three Weeks) just gone to the Edinburgh Fringe 2013. I've also acted quite a lot as well, both with the EUTC and other companies, such as Charlotte Productions and Relief Theatre. I also got to be an extra in Carmen at the Edinburgh Playhouse alongside a massive stallion last April. That was fun.

Do you go to watch plays - which ones?
Largely, everyone in the student theatre circles at Edinburgh end up watching each other's plays. During the Fringe, I've usually had a comp pass to one venue or more due to being part of a show and also reviewing, so I tend to binge-watch Fringe shows in those venues on my days off. Outside of that, professional theatre tickets look expensive and intimidating but I've seen a few things whilst in Edinburgh. Productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Quiz Show and The Lieutenant of Inishmore immediately come to mind. My girlfriend also took me to see a production of Swan Lake somewhat unwillingly. However, as my first experience of ballet, I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would.

Have you seen Wolf Hall by Mantel at the RSC?
I haven't. I have read it though! That's another piece of historical fiction I forgot to mention.

Did the film based on Eagle of the Ninth have anything to do with your decision to do the play?
I actually haven't gotten around to watching The Eagle yet, initially because I didn't realise it was actually The Eagle of the Ninth because they changed the name for some reason and then because some friends of mine hadn't particularly enjoyed it. But I've been looking online and the reviews actually seem to be fairly decent, so I'll probably give it a watch when I have some free time (which might not be for a while)

What did you see in Sword at Sunset that made you want to adapt it for stage?
I saw an opportunity to play with people's expectations of King Arthur - of what they think they know. I also saw a challenge - bringing to life a tale that would certainly make an engaging film with vast CGI battle scenes but attempting to bring the true beauty of the book - the character development - to the forefront of people's minds on the stage.

Why this version of Arthur? There are many out there, and some of them focus on a 'real/authentic' version of the story - why chose Sutcliff's?
Sutcliff's was a version that I had read and read again and also one that I discovered that not as many people were aware of as I would have thought. Therefore, I saw an opportunity to share this brilliant story with people who might otherwise not pick up the book.            

Did you need to get permission from Sutcliff's estate to undertake this adaptation?
When I had the idea, I approached the rights holders back in 2012 who got in contact with the estate and we settled on a small rights agreement for each performance.

What path through the story have you chosen, and why? 
The adaptation is, I think, largely faithful to the book. The major story strand missing is that of Sutcliff 'Little Dark People'; the biggest change that this resulted in is the reason for the early death of Artos' child - Guenhumara blames it on the lingering effects of Ygerna's rape of Artos rather than on the village of the 'Little Dark People'. Ygerna's role is thus expanded; she appears to Artos as a vision quite more frequently than she does in the book. That aside, the story plays out exactly as anyone who read the book would expect it to. A fair few of Artos' trips to various lords and princelings are left out to focus on the main story thread and Bedwyr's and Gwalchmai's introductions are now one scene rather than two.

What compromises have you had to make?  Have you had to change the story in any way?
Sword at Sunset features horses; SO MANY HORSES. Horses are naturally quite difficult to get onstage (Carmen's massive stallion not disproving this). Because of this, the bits of battle scene are the companions on foot rather than horseback. Similarly, Cabal the dog is always offstage even when characters are interacting with him from a distance.

Have there been any particular production problems to overcome?  For example, an important aspect in the book is cavalry and obviously you can't have horses on stage - or can you?  How are you doing the battles - onstage/offstage/reported?
As mentioned above, the battles are largely on foot. There is a fair bit of onstage fighting, though not a gratuitous amount. Quite often, we might see a small group of characters rush onstage mid-battle and mid-conversation before rushing offstage to a different side of the battlefield and being replaced by a new group.

Are you attempting to mirror Sutcliff's language in the script? Have you used any of the dialogue directly from the novel?
Absolutely. I've used quite a large amount of dialogue directly from the novel; much more than I expected to. Sutcliff has a fantastic command of dialogue and because the book is written from Artos' perspective, the book has a natural dramatic/cinematic feel to it. In some cases, I've adapted some of Sutcliff's description into new dialogue - her description of Artos and Guenhumara having sex for the first time is now a monologue from Ygerna's spectre mocking Artos. Other times, I've used original dialogue from several different places in the book and changed the order somewhat when several events are compressed into one scene or occasionally re-attributing it to different speakers. Sutcliff's book is not a play however and thus I've written a lot of bits linking the story together and filling in the gaps between events. I've tried to mimic her style of speech wherever I can.

Is there a narrator? The book is written in first person, so does Artos address the audience?
There is no narrator. Artos has a brief soliloquy at the beginning but he never directly addresses the audience.

How did you cast the play? Eg. were you looking for someone who looked like Sutcliff's Artos, or may be someone who had a particular presence?
I rarely cast based on physical appearance for stage shows as it's not quite as important as it is in screen productions. In fact, my approach to casting involved opening up a lot of roles to women as well as men. The characters are predominantly male but we have a fairly even male/female split within the companions. Artos and Bedwyr were limited to men, whilst Guenhumara and Ygerna were limited to women. But these aside, the deciding factor in whether to cast someone in a part was their suitability to the role and ability to act it well, not their gender.

Will you film the production?
We're certainly hoping to.

Are you studying drama? Are you aiming for a career in the theatre?
I'm not a drama student. My plans post-graduation do possibly involve setting up my own small-scale amateur production arm in Edinburgh to continue my theatrical endeavours.

What are you hoping to do in the future?
My goal in life has always been to write. Whether this culminates in writing for theatre, writing novels or writing in some other context (journalism and media, perhaps) remains to be seen.

What are your ambitions?
I can't deny that a bit of fame and money from successful plays or other writing wouldn't be nice, as it's what I love to do. However, the main motivation in doing these theatrical things, and perhaps even in life in general, is to have fun and enjoy myself. I can't help but feel that if you're not enjoying what you're doing, then you're either doing it wrong or doing the wrong thing.

Many thanks to James Beagon for answering all my questions!

Some parts of this interview were included in an article on the Historical Novel Society's web pages.

At the time of posting this blog, tickets for the play were not yet available on the Bedlam Theatre's website - keep checking!

10 February 2014

Sword at Sunset - the play, coming soon!

Coming soon to this blog will be an extended interview with James Beagon who has adapated Sword At Sunset for the stage at Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh.  The play will debut in the last week of February.  Meanwhile, here's part of the interview which the Historical Novel Society kindly put on their website:


5 February 2014

The Lantern Bearers audio

The Lantern Bearers has been available as a CD audio for a while.  The reader is Johanna Ward and you can listen to a short clip here (see Play Sample on the left of your screen):


Currently on Amazon UK the CDs can be picked up for as little as £10.40, plus £2.80 postage.  Unfortunately UK residents aren't able to downloand the audio version anywhere - as far as I can tell.  North American listeners are lucky to be able to do so, following the link above.

2 February 2014

Website:Rosemary Sutcliff tropes

This blog looks at a website called TVtropes, which also includes some novel authors, including Rosemary Sutcliff.

Here's what the contributors say about tropes and the website:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them. 

Here's an example of an entry for Sutcliff: 
  • Author Catchphrase: Lots, including the coinages "woodshore" (the edge of the woods) and "house-place" (pointless alliteration).
    • The North "went up in flames" about once per book
    • "It is in my heart that" this is a long way to say "I think"
    • Leaf-buds are like green flame or smoke, fire is like a flower, white flowers are like curds, and sea-foam is like cream
    • "stirabout": because "stew" is cliche
    • "wave-lift": also known as a hill, usually the Downs of southern England
    • A Celtic woman invariably "carried herself like a queen". She may also wear braids "as thick as a swordsman's wrist" and her love interest may be able to "warm my hands at you". If she's really into him it's probably a case of "whistle and I'll come to you my lad" (a line stolen from Robert Burns' poem.)
    • The green plover is always calling. Always. 

    Is that a green plover on this blog's background?!  Did we choose it unconsciously as a being a good design for a blog about Sutcliff?   Further entries for Sutcliff can be found on TVtropes here.

31 January 2014

Two Worlds Meeting: Cultural Interaction and Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth

Sarah found this on her travels in the Web: Two Worlds Meeting: Cultural Interaction and Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth by Jessica Cobb is a thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for an MPhil in 2012.  It is online in PDF format and can be downloaded from here.  Happy reading!

24 January 2014

Sutcliff: Obituary July 25th 1992

Rosemary Sutcliff - Obituary
Times, The (London, England)
July 25, 1992
Rosemary Sutcliff, OBE, FRSL, historical novelist and author of many books for children, died on July 23 aged 71. She was born at West Clandon, Surrey, on December 14, 1920.
IN THE decade following the second world war a generation of writers and illustrators came to the fore who brought new lustre to the making of children's books. Rosemary Sutcliff is among the greatest of these, despite, or perhaps because of, her concentration on a fairly narrow field of historical writing. Novels such as Simon, set in the Civil War, the Elizabethan Brother Dusty-Feet and the Bronze Age Warrior Scarlet were the result of meticulous research and designed to appeal to children and adults alike. She was particularly at home in the period when the Romans were leaving Britain to the depradations of the Saxons and the Vikings, the Sea Wolves, as she called them.

Rosemary Sutcliff was born into a naval family (her father, George Ernest Sutcliff, rose to become Commodore of Convoys during the war) but the itinerant childhood which this entailed was further complicated by early illness. At the age of two and a half she contracted Still's disease, and the unstoppable progress of this painful and debilitating form of juvenile arthritis necessarily dominated her growth to maturity. Over the years she travelled with her parents from dockyard town to dockyard town and, although she attended schools intermittently, much of her education took place at home or during spells in hospital.

These early years were recalled by her in her typically frank but witty memoir Blue Remembered Hills (1983) where she notes that ``the only subject I was any good at was art" which resulted in her going, at the age of 14, to the Bideford School of Art, where she took a full three-year course with considerable success. Her parents, however, dissuaded her from attempting large-scale painting, and after she had gained her diploma she began to develop a career as a miniature painter and was a lifelong member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters.

Rosemary Sutcliff's mother whose presence was recognised by her daughter as being profoundly influential had also encouraged her to a love of reading, not least through her own devotion to story-telling and reading aloud. Kipling was a particular favourite and, during the war years, Rosemary Sutcliff began to turn her attention to writing as an even more tractable occupation than miniature painting. She experimented with a Kipling-esque epic called ``Wild Sunrise" which she later said, with a sigh of relief, ``sank without trace". Nevertheless, she persevered with further ideas for stories set in the past and eventually, at the request of the children's department of Oxford University Press, she prepared a manuscript of The Chronicles of Robin Hood which was published, alongside her first story, The Queen Elizabeth Story, in 1950.

There is little in these early works that was to suggest the breakthrough that came in 1953 with Simon, with its Civil War setting, and in 1954 with Eagle of the Ninth, a tale of the Romans in Britain, which was directly inspired by Puck of Pook's Hill. In these two books her gift for imagining herself back into an historical period came to maturity and revealed her ability to give graphic life to a past age and to recognise the constant dilemmas posed by the need to make responsible decisions. Families divide but conscience must be followed; loyalties exact hard penalties.

Eagle of the Ninth brought Rosemary Sutcliff nation-wide fame partly through a highly successful serialisation on BBC Radio's Children's Hour (She once heard a child making a sand-castle say ``I'm building a temple to Mithras"). More importantly though, it led her to a sequence of powerful novels in which she refined her skill at integrating the story of an individual into an intensely imagined historical setting. Several of these novels are linked through subtly suggested family connections, and the use of a ``dolphin ring" (eg The Silver Branch, 1957; The Lantern Bearers, 1959; and Dawn Wind, 1961) and these culminated in her Arthurian novel, published for adults, Sword at Sunset (1963).

Other stories stand to one side of this sequence, either through being set in a different period, such as The Shield Ring (1956) an heroic tale of Vikings defending their Lake District redoubt against the Normans, or through the psychological force of the story, as in what many regard as her masterpiece The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965). This book like several of its predecessors gained a further dimension through the strong and closely integrated illustrations of Charles Keeping.

Rosemary Sutcliff was from the first insistent upon the importance of research into facts and into past modes of thought as a foundation for her historical novels and this gave rise to her writing some evocative books of historical description, such as Houses and History (1960) and some versions of myth, such as Beowulf (1961). She also wrote several other novels for adults and a group of short, individually-published tales for young readers. Almost all this extensive output was distinguished by a vigour of writing and a detailed apprehension of the landscape of the past which showed her triumphant success in overcoming the crippling physical disabilities that had been with her since childhood. The perseverance, balance, and sanguine humour exhibited by many of her heroes were hers as well. She was an inspiring and most companionable spirit.

She did not believe in shielding children from sad or dreadful happenings but felt a responsibility to point out a path, a right way of doing things and a hope for the future, the triumph of civilisation against barbarism. Children, she believed, were capable of understanding intuitively rather than literally and would come back eventually to what they did not understand the first time.

The extent and depth of her research can be judged from the bibliography for The Lantern Bearers which lists 30 books with Sir Arthur Bryant and Sir Mortimer Wheeler rubbing shoulders with Gildas and Nennius and books on Jutland, Celtic Christianity and monasticism. Denied by her arthritic condition most domestic pleasures she worked constantly from mid-morning until nightfall on her writing, sometimes completing three books a year.

Rosemary Sutcliff's achievements did not go unrecognised. She gained a number of awards for her children's books, including, in 1960, the Library Association's Carnegie Medal for The Lantern Bearers. She was appointed OBE in 1975 and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Section: Features
(c) Times Newspapers Limited 1992, 2003
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17 January 2014

Sutcliff: Memorial service November 4th 1992

Miss Rosemary Sutcliff -
Memorial Service
Times, The (London, England)
November 4, 1992
Miss Rosemary Sutcliff

The Secretary of State for National Heritage was represented by Mr Vaughan Rees at a memorial service for Miss Rosemary Sutcliff held yesterday at St James's, Piccadilly. The Rev Ulla Monberg officiated.
The Rev Peter Trafford and Mrs Sarah Palmer read the lessons, Ms Jill Black and Mr Anthony Lawton, godson and chairman, Sussex Dolphin, read from Miss Sutcliff's works and Mr John Bell from the works of Kipling. Mr Murray Pollinger, principal, Murray Pollinger, and Mrs Penelope Lively gave addresses.

Section: Features
(c) Times Newspapers Limited 1992, 2003
Record Number: 993493516
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10 January 2014

Sword at Sunset at 50 (from the Independent, 2012)

Sword at Sunset, By Rosemary Sutcliff

This anniversary edition* of Rosemary Sutcliff's 'Arthurian' adult novel proves it was her 'odd one out'

3 January 2014

Sword At Sunset - the stage play!

The Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh is going to be showing a stage adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset between 25th February - 1st March 2014.  The blog editors (who both currently reside in the north east of England, so Edinburgh isn't that far away!) are hoping to go, and hopefully an article about the adaptation will appear here in due course.

Meanwhile, a little more information about the production.  The production will be ran by students of the University of Edinburgh Theatre Company, and auditions for parts took place in early December 2013.

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