Presented for the University of Bristol’s Centre for Medieval Studies Postgraduate Conference
Saturday, 28 February, 4.30 at the Arts & Humanities Complex on Woodland Road, Bristol
Mankind, a peasant farmer, is content to work in his field and follow the holy precepts of his confessor, Mercy, until he encounters the trickster demon Mischief and his minions New-guise, Nowadays, and Nought. In league with the devil Titivillus, they convince Mankind to leave his work and prayer and seek out a life filled with laziness and debauchery. Only when he realises that his mortal soul is in danger does Mankind repent of his ways and return to the kindness and forgiveness of Mercy.
Mankind dates from the 1470’s and may have been performed at Shrovetide, when people had one last hurrah before the austerity and sacrifice of the Lenten season. This is reflected in the broad, bawdy comedy which sits amidst Mercy’s reminder to consider one’s ultimate fate. Even today, it’s easy to understand the dilemma which faces Mankind: to think of the future, or to enjoy the pleasures of the moment.
About Our Production:
With the conference theme of ‘Rule and Recreation’, Mankind is the perfect dramatic example of both, and the conflict that can occur between the two. The character Mercy represents the former aspect, while the ‘vice’ characters Nowadays, New-guise, and Nought represent the latter. On the surface, Mankind’s struggle is between the work he is supposed to be doing in his field, and his desire to go off and have fun at the tavern with these characters. As Mercy reminds him, idle hands are the devil’s playground- and in this play, that is very literally true.
But Mankind’s struggle is not just a question of work versus play. The Vices’ argument that assiduous work in his field does not guarantee a profitable crop is a valid one, and Mankind’s desire to have a life filled with more than futile drudgery is entirely understandable. Yet Mercy does not suggest that life need be all work and no play, only that one should be moderate in one’s indulgences; too much recreation, he suggests, is what gets one into trouble. Mankind attempts to argue for a balanced life, where a person is not expected to be perfect, but ought to have the best of intentions.
Mankind is a play with a moral intention, but is also, inarguably, a comedy- and a rather bawdy one at that. In watching it, is the audience learning about the rules, or are they indulging in a moment of recreation? Our production does not have an answer, but it attempts to challenge the audience into pondering this dilemma. The play implicates the audience in Mankind’s actions through moments when the characters speak directly to them, and when they give money to the Vices, they become complicit in Mankind’s downfall. We have taken this one step further: by asking the audience to become Mankind through reading his part, they are challenged to consider the ways in which they are also m/Mankind.
Mankind will be portrayed by members of the audience.
Mercy: Omega La Mariposa is a trained professional dancer who has worked with different companies worldwide. She is now resident in Bristol and works as a dance teacher and choreographer. Her most recent acting work includes the part of Kitty Clive in a new film about the life of Hannah More (Redcliff Films). She also has a degree in music from Bristol University and is currently researching new paradigms in music composition.
Mischief: Ileana Gherghina is a professional actress and director, and an MA graduate in Performance Research at the Universi- ty of Bristol, where she focused mainly on theatre directing. Ileana has developed a personal method of directing and act- ing, which she calls ‘the childlike approach’, and she has start- ed applying it practically with Nu Nu Theatre Company. It draws upon elements of child’s play, such as their relation to onlookers or their development of characters, and childhood memories. About Mankind, she reflects that it is very easy to do bad and very hard to do good!
Nowadays: Beth Reed is studying drama at the University of Western England. She has been involved in many different shows, rang- ing from panto to thriller. Most recently, she played the part of Principle Boy in her local amateur company’s production Tom the Piper’s Son. She also organises shows for the UWE Drama Society, and acts as their productions officer. This is her first medieval play and her first change to play an ‘evil’ character, and she is enjoying the challenge.
New-guise: Paul Seage is studying for a PhD in medieval history at the University of Bristol, exploring power and authority within the church in medieval Ireland. A native of Lancaster, he studied medieval history at the University of St Andrews before moving to Bristol in 2011. He has performed in a number of orchestras and ensembles playing the trombone, tuba and euphonium.
Nought: Frances Eustace is a professional musician, specialising in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. She is working on a PhD at Bristol in secular medieval carolling; her thesis currently has the working title of ‘Rude Dance-Songs’. She clog dances and has run six marathons.
Titivillus: Tony Mohammad has spent many years working backstage in theatres, and has recently begun directing. He started acting five years ago and has enjoyed taking on characters such as the Mad Hatter (Alice in Wonderland) and recently Buttons (Cinderella). He is looking forward to playing a ‘bad’ character like Titivillus in Mankind, and he has especially enjoyed analysing the play.
Director: Laura Elizabeth Rice
Producer: Ian S Murphy
Production Manager: Nathan A Bargate
Music: Frances Eustace