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Review: “The River and The Bell” by Boxford Masques

The River and The Bell – tall tales from a village pub

Boxford Masques Community Play at Boxford Recreation Ground – Wednesday 26th July 2023

Rumbustious, romping, irreverent and occasionally wickedly political, the Boxford Masques stormed through their premiere of The River and The Bell with joyous aplomb.  Specially written by Geraldine McGaughrean and directed by Ade Morris, this musical play mines a rich seam of stories, myths and local legends from Boxford and the surrounding community.

Set in old The Bell (a new one is currently in construction), the story explores the age-old disruption of the stranger – in this case, the beautiful child of a witch – entering an established mix of pub regulars, including a hilarious “Mrs Malaprop”, and staff.  The tales weave together wizards, trains, underground rivers with a resident mermaid looking for redemption through love, a gently unfolding romance of local boy and newcomer, and the habits and annoyances of regulars, who have known each other for years.

Not afraid of taking on some themes that are as modern as they are old, the tale of the brutal pursuit of a religious nonconformist felt particularly poignant just hours after our Courts overturned the conviction of Andy Malkinson, who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  A pair of young vigilante siblings, taking on misdeeds, also felt very current.

The set, styling and choreography was clever and creative.  Not every pub can transform itself into the representation of a 1950s train before your very eyes.  How did they do it?  With 32 twirling umbrellas painted as locomotive wheels.

With six performances from Wednesday 26th July, the Boxford Masque players reflect thriving community in West Berkshire with its distinctly local cast, musicians, crew, organising committee and army of volunteers coming together to make this show happen.  Every age and personality was on stage, belting out fantastic choruses and ballads.  Under a big marquee, the performance was unaffected by pouring rain – comfortable as well as delightful.