Mike Shepherd on Fairy Tales

Mike Shepherd on Fairy Tales

Mike has rediscovered a piece he wrote when we were making Hansel & Gretel, and we though we would share it with you.

As a child (this is true), I’d spend many hours up a tree at the bottom of the garden. When it was in leaf anyone below couldn’t tell whether I was up there or not; I was in a world of my own away from parents and siblings.

It was from that tree that I watched the “Goosewoman”. I never knew what she was called but she was squat and moved fast, close to the ground, swishing a stick.

The geese were terrifying too: if you ever went in the field to fetch a ball or retrieve a paper glider they would come at you in a spear-headed hissing phalanx – like Concorde.

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and it was at this time of year, as an eight year old boy (this is true), that I witnessed the deep, dark stuff of nightmares. From out of the goose shed came The Goosewoman. I remember her dressed in a faded blue thick canvas apron, fat goose gripped firmly under her arm, small chopper in her hand.

She made her way to an upright post, positioned the goose whose neck waved innocuously this way and that until it lined up, for an instant, above the post. In a flash the chopper flew and its head fell. Blood everywhere and I clung to the comforting branch which I straddled. 

Then, in my shocked state, with a child’s logic, I decided that something had to be done to dispel this living horror just outside the comfort of my family garden.

I stuffed a hessian sack (this is true), with dead leaves and newspaper, sneaked a box of matches from the mantelpiece, set fire to the sack of combustibles, opened the goose shed door, threw in the sack, slammed the door tight shut, and ran.

I ran from one end of St Austell to the other – this was in the days when St Austell had two ends and a heart in the middle – until I found myself in the middle of the woods: Menacuddle Woods.

There I hid as darkness fell, staring at my Hopalong Cassidy watch. I stayed there until midnight, the witching hour, the hour when time stands still, when time starts again, when, hopefully, there can be a new beginning. 

Then I made my way home, the deed done,the geese cooked, the hour passed. Home to worried parents, an ear-clipping policeman, and a scowling Goosewoman.

Why have I revealed this secret from the past? I’m sat in a reflective mood around the dying embers of our fire pit at the Kneehigh barns. We’ve just finished a period of ‘play’ with the story of Hansel & Gretel. It’s a dark, elemental story: the children abandoned in the dark forest, and the old witch enticing them into the horrors of houses where children are cooked and eaten!

 Of course these dark fairytales connect us to the dark fears of childhood: the terrifying realisation that life is finite; that there is a world to step into without home, without parents. This is connected to that time at the top of the tree at the bottom of the garden looking up at the sky, and grappling with the concept of infinity, the void

Hansel & Gretel

Hansel & Gretel

Let the irrepressible Kneehigh Theatre take you by the hand and lead you into deepest part of the forest!

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