About John Thelwall in Performance: The Fairy of the Lake

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John Thelwall in Performance: The Fairy of the Lake, Edited By Judith Thompson
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About John Thelwall in Performance: The Fairy of the Lake

1.        The Fairy of the Lake is a "dramatic romance in three acts" written by the romantic radical John Thelwall during the 3 year exile (1798-1801) that provides the halfway breathing-space between the well-known political phase of his life, and the little-known elocutionary phase. Thelwall's notoriety ensured that it would never be accepted for performance, and probably he never intended it for the stage; yet like all of his work, this mix of heroic drama, falstaffian farce, and musical spectacle is charged with his trademark eloquence and theatricality, and the success of previous staged readings of Thelwall suggested to several Thelwall scholars that the Fairy too might be revived, and even given a full dramatic production to satisfy once and for all the question of whether Thelwall could speak to the modern world.

2.        This was proven beyond a doubt in autumn 2009, when the play was performed as centerpiece of The Art and the Act: John Thelwall in Practice, the second Thelwall memorial conference, in a premiere collaboration between Halifax's Zuppa Theatre company ("theatre that uses the whole animal") and Dalhousie Theatre Productions (for their 2009-10 Realms of Enchantment season). A surprise hit, the sold-out run was acclaimed by Halifax media as "innovative," "infectious" and "sparkling". For scholars who attended the conference, it provided one of several opportunities to hear Thelwall's long-silenced voice, including a choral student performance of his 1822 doggerel "Auto-biography", a moving recitation of his 1797 conversation poem 'To the Infant Hampden,' and a rousing extempore oration that revived the raucous spirit of 19th century reform dinner in authentic premises of 19th century Halifax privateer's pub. None of the latter was recorded, and thus they share the ephemeral fate of so much of Thelwall's work. But Thelwall's Fairy has escaped that fate, for the organizers of the Art and the Act ensured that it would be filmed, so that the process of its transformation from dusty page to modern stage would be available as a lasting and accessible resource for scholars, students and practitioners of Thelwall, Romanticism and modern theatre alike.

3.        This volume presents The Fairy of the Lake, from both scholarly and popular perspectives, to suit a variety of audiences. My introductory essay offers historical background and context. It is followed by a multi-part video documentary by Brooke Fifield, Dalhousie honours theatre student and filmmaker, which includes interviews with Dr. Roberta Barker, chair of the Dalhousie Theatre department, and myself as organizer of the Art and Act conference, as well as several mini-documentaries on various aspects of the production. These combine interviews with Zuppa Theatre directors, and commentaries by student actors, musicians, costumers and stage designers, with rehearsal and production footage, to highlight the creative challenges, practical considerations and unexpected delights involved in bringing a long-neglected romantic text to modern audiences.

4.        The highlight of the page is a film of the full production, also by Brooke Fifield, with cast and crew credits and copies of local media reviews.

5.        I have also provided a link to the electronic text of The Fairy of the Lake, at the University of Rochester's Camelot Project site.

About the Design and Markup

This volume's banner was designed by Michael Quilligan, a Romantic Circles Site Manager, at the University of Maryland. The sword and wand elements were taken from the original poster for the Fairy of the Lake. The resource was TEI-encoded by students in the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture (IDHMC) at Texas A&M University. Laura Mandell, Matthew Christy, Michael Quilligan and Dave Rettenmaier transformed the TEI files into HTML by using modified versions of the transforms provided by the TEI. TEI renders text archival quality for better preservation and future access.

The HTML pages do not use frames but rather make extensive use of stylesheets for layout and presentation. The site works best when viewed with Mozilla Firefox v. 3, Netscape 4.0, Internet Explorer 4.0, or higher, or a comparable browser; earlier browsers may not display everything properly.

Published @ RC

August 2012