Plen an Gwari: the Playing Places of Cornwall
– we are going to publish a beautiful illustrated book written by Will Coleman, opening-up the undiscovered treasures of medieval Cornish theatre culture.
‘Devils and Devices to delight as well the Eye as the Ear’
A throng of people thousands strong, surrounded by magnificent pavilions, performers in splendid costumes, massed chorus and musicians, live animals, guns and fireworks; the theatre culture of medieval Cornwall would have delivered an epic, immersive experience.
Spectacular, outdoor performances lasting for several days were once staged, involving the whole community in a celebration of the lives of Cornish saints or illuminating religious stories.
Two well known examples of Plen an Gwari (amphitheatres) survive at St Just and at Perran Round – these have good reason to be considered the oldest working theatres in Britain.
But, more than 30 other sites across Cornwall have now been located; some say that ‘every parish had one’.
Our new book, written by Will Coleman, is packed with illustrations from leading Cornish artists (Brian Hoskin, Trystan Mitchell, Heidi Ball, Daryl Waller and Emily Henshall) as well as other diagrams and pictures helping to explain the phenomenon.
‘Plen an Gwari; the Playing Places of Cornwall’ will;
- take us through the first-hand evidence and explore an array of other historical clues, some never previously published.
- conjure up for us the extraordinary experience of going to one of these epic ‘Gwari Meur’ shows.
- explain why the Plen an Gwari became so popular, how they were used to champion the Cornish language and why they were supressed.
- suggest that the whole of Shakespearean theatre practice may well have been built on Plen an Gwari experience.
- show how Cornish theatre companies today (eg Kneehigh, Wild Works, Golden Tree…) have been successfully reclaiming the Plen an Gwari form.
- give each of us the pointers to find out if we have our own long-lost Plen an Gwari in our back garde
The Plen an Gwari illustrations and community project have been paid for by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant; we now need extra funding to pay for the graphic design and printing to make sure we produce a truly beautiful book as befits this precious and previously under-celebrated subject matter.