It’s not often that I am moved to write a review of a play, I rarely have the opportunity these days and there are others who have made that craft much more their speciality, but in the case of The Life and Times of The Tat Man I felt I should make an exception, as I know those involved quite well, and have enjoyed their work previously, some of which has led directly to this point.
This was the second performance of this one man play to be staged at the seemingly unlikely venue of Walsall Museum, last Saturday 26 April. You might not expect much from such a venue, but the darkened room, tiny but well-set stage, effective and dramatic lighting and good quality sound belied the location. It created, if you will, the ‘perfect storm in a teacup’. But who was it at the eye of this storm?
The central character of ‘The Tat Man’, a larger-than-life outlaw on the edge of society who not only inhabits the tiny world of his scrapyard but at the same time also the much larger domain of myth, legend and imagination, was created and developed by highly-regarded Wednesbury-born playwright, poet and author David Calcutt as the lead-in to a series of new ‘Mummer’s Plays’ for Walsall commissioned by Walsall Civic Society and Lottery-funded as part of a package aimed at highlighting the historic Bayard’s Colts housed in Walsall Museum.
These carved and figure-headed clubs not only have a semi-mysterious significance going back many centuries in the history of Walsall, but also have something powerful to say about the spirit of the people of these isles, which, being a mix of black and white and many shades of grey in-between, still resides deep within us all, if we choose to look for it. Mr Calcutt has well-proven over the past couple of years that he has the very special ability to tease out of the Colts a power of which few were previously aware, and The Tat Man is both informed and inspired by that power…
Moved is certainly a good word for this drama, actually, as once the lights dimmed I found myself subtly but powerfully moved from the light-hearted yet also grim tale of the birth and life of an apparently ordinary travelling man, a tinker, a tatter, a traveller, someone whose like I have seen around and about locally all my life, to a much darker, more troubled and deeply emotional place, until by the end I found myself so affected by both story and performance that I was simultaneously electrified and misty-eyed, but to say too much of how and why I reached that place would spoil the effect for you, dear reader.
Suffice to say that in many ways this is a tale of both the loss of innocence and emotional redemption; it also has much to say about our human and cultural links with horses and the myths of our past.
The star of the show, actor, folk singer and raconteur Mr Tony Barrett, shone out from the stage and into the darkness, his performance both in drama and song enfolding a rapt audience in an intimate and gripping embrace as it became very clear that the objects in his sack of tat meant far more than met the eye…
With taut direction by Glen Buglass, this exceptional gem by David Calcutt allowed the tiny stage to expand the audience’s imagination far beyond the room, to places and times which have great resonance not only in our own lives but those of our ancestors. It also, on this occasion, had great resonance with the very appreciative audience, including myself.
What I must say to you in conclusion is this – do not miss this play – you still have time to see it. First performed on 2 April 2014, several performances are still to come and tickets are available at the time of writing for 3 May, 17 May, 31 May and 7 June – booking is essential, for further details see:
Tickets cost £4 per person, no concessions. Available from Walsall Museum, please telephone 01922 653116, email firstname.lastname@example.org or pop in in person.
There is a fifteen minute interval, during which refreshments may be purchased.
A. Stuart Williams
Pictures are by A. Stuart Williams, with thanks to Walsall Museum, David Calcutt, Glen Buglass and Tony Barrett for permission to photograph this performance. More pictures may be viewed on Flickr: