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Catherine Smith’s The New Cockaigne

The New Cockaigne by Catherine Smith

Last week I managed to grab the last available chair upstairs at The Lewes Arms for the first performance of Catherine Smith’s The New Cockaigne. Luckily I didn’t sit in the chair reserved for the performers, or it could have been embarrassing – we were treated to an unrestrained romp – “a verbal feast of sexual, gastronomic and alcoholic excess” – the performers being two young actors who emphasised each word with mime-play and were intent on a bit of mild audience participation.

The New Cockaigne is published by the Frogmore Press, with a superb cover design (look closely at the images in those pretty circles!) It’s a ballad, and a note in the foreword explains that “the Land of Cockaigne was a medieval hedonistic fantasy, explored in legend, oral history and art.” Catherine incorporates all the details of the original, but brings it up to date into a kind of Orwellian satire on regimes and regimens.

I’d call it both scary and hilarious – (‘scalarious’?) Not to give the story away, but just to say that by half way through I was feeling a bit queasy as I nervously sipped my white wine spritzer, but it all came good in the end (sort of) – and I did enjoy the Licorice Allsorts. Having live music (“from a live musician”) was a great addition and director Mark Hewitt did a fantastic job of staging this piece in a very small space indeed, the claustrophobia was perfect. I know he and Catherine are hoping to tour performances of The New Cockaigne and certainly for me it worked beautifully in the confines of the pub space, with the ambient noises of pub goings-on and the audience-as-props. Great fun.

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Robin Houghton 2021