‘Chasing the Cheerless Gloom’

On a cold winter’s night which followed a day of ferocious gales and stormy seas – when the wind tore through the north coast and the rest of Northern Ireland and left havoc in its wake – I really wouldn’t have been criticised for staying inside beside a nice cosy fire with my little dog. However, I had, rather ironically, booked tickets to an evening of Christmas poetry and prose at the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine entitled: ‘Chasing the Cheerless Gloom: An Antidote to Winter’ – so off I went.

Devised and directed by Tony Bareham from the theatre – a stalwart since 1977 – the evening’s performances, for me, did just what they had promised, as inside the theatre, a modest crowd gathered to celebrate the season in ye olde olden days style – and what a delight it was.

A complimentary programme was the first gift of the night – a welcome treat crammed full of a variety of the beautiful words we were to hear throughout the show. From Frost and Hardy to Longfellow, Kavanagh, Burns and Keats – there was a literary gem to please everyone.

A polished black grand piano stood off to the left of the stage, to be played expertly by musical director, composer and pianist, Bill Rodgers, whilst squat little potted plants stood proudly at the front of the stage, a large screen behind the readers and singers portraying festive images and scenes to accompany the acts.

It was an evening interspersed with readings both melancholy, high-spirited and somewhere in between the two, punctuated by renditions of classic Christmas songs – and by classic, I mean truly classic – I had never heard a single one before and they evoked perfectly the Christmases of old with their haunting melodies and lyrics.christmas-tree

Here, I must mention that, whilst each singer was to be commended for their own unique style, my personal favourite was a young woman with a snowy white pixie crop of hair who, rather fittingly, kept singing about snow in what can only be described as a beautifully ethereal and angelic voice which sent tingles down the spine.

‘Silent, and soft, and slow

Descends the snow… The troubled sky reveals

The grief it feels…’

The magic of snowy woods and forlorn landscapes was vividly evoked, the singer’s voice like song itself, as it ever so softly floated from the stage and settled gently on our ears.

I’m afraid that I couldn’t identify who was exactly who in the line up but, suffice it to say, from the bleaker festive readings, read rather magnificently by the well-spoken and wry voice of choice, to the more exuberant renditions of Christmas prose which brought to mind mummers and fiery Christmas puddings and kisses under the mistletoe, all suitably wrapped up an evening which, for one night only, brought the gloriousness of Christmases past to Coleraine. {The contributors were, however: Sally Andrew, John Donnelly, Grace Loughrey, Helen McKeown and Ken Ward singing; and Tony Bareham, Jeremy Lewis and Des Cranston reading; Tony and Bill Rodgers devising the show}.

I shall leave you with a piece by Thomas Campion:

Now Winter Nights Enlarge

Now winter nights enlarge

The number of their hours,

And clouds their storms discharge

Upon the airy towers.

Let now the chimneys blaze,

And cups o’erflow with wine;

Let well-tun’d words amaze

With harmony divine.

Now yellow waxen lights

Shall wait on honey Love,

While youthful revels, masks, and courtly sights

Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense

With lovers’ long discourse

Much speech hath some defence,

Though beauty no remorse.

All do not all things well:

Some measures comely tread,

Some knotted riddles tell,

Some poems smoothly read.

The Summer hath his joys,

And Winter his delights.

Though Love and all his pleasures are but toys,

They shorten tedious nights.

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