Sunday, July 08, 2012

John's Final Footsteps - review of The Berkshire Giant

Photograph copyright: Farrows Creative. For more photos from the event, please visit

The Berkshire Giant: John’s Final Footsteps, in Newbury town centre, on Saturday, June 23

THE town had been buzzing all week with the story of John Ever Afraid, with whispers of strange happenings in Aldworth and on Snelsmore Common spreading like wildfire, exacerbated by announcements from milk floats and the distribution of news pamphlets announcing his coming.

And so, on Saturday evening, as darkness fell, a large crowd braved the drizzle to line Northbrook Street to greet the fabled giant, hidden in the walls of Aldworth Church for hundreds of years before finally arising and trekking the 10 miles to Newbury to face his destiny.

His arrival was heralded by a doom-tinged rock & roll band atop a bus, flanked by the devil’s acolytes, stilted skeletal crows who pranced and poked at the crowd as they led the procession through the town and into the Market Place, where the music of a devilish mardi gras band welcomed John himself.

And what a darling John turned out to be. An ungainly figure, with the most soulful blinking blue eyes, he was not to be feared but was himself as timid as a kitten, as he prepared to face his destiny with the devil.

His supporters tried to fight off the acolytes but without success, and John was bowed by his fear, his head in his hands. But through the crowd came the spirit creatures of the forest, - a stag, bear, hare and horse - to save John, festooning him with colour, and bestowing him with antlers of his own.

As John rose back up to the cheers of the crowd, lanterns and fireworks lit up the sky, and a message appeared on the bank building behind him: “I am not afraid anymore”.

Visually stunning, moving, strange and wonderful, this was the culmination of The Corn Exchange’s first large-scale outdoor arts project produced in-house from scratch by creative producer Simon Chatterton, with input from Irish outdoor theatre company Macnas and a host of local volunteers.

The most ambitious project so far in the theatre’s two-year Arts Council-funded outdoor events programme, with additional funding from Greenham Common Trust and West Berkshire Council, it is really quite stunning that a community as outwardly sensible as West Berkshire can come up with something as wonderfully outlandish and beautiful as this.

I don’t know about you, but I rather like the fact that West Berkshire is a little bit weird these days. It rather suits us.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, June 28, 2012

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