7 April 2000

Mart millennium play puts bums on benches

THE pens at Sedbergh livestock market became changing pens for actors and actresses for a week recently during the staging of Mystery at the Mart.

This was the local communitys millennium play telling in the sale ring the bible story from creation to resurrection.

"Mystery at the Mart" was a sell out each night and included current farming references, such as the price of lambs. And the shepherds at Christs birth got laughs as they played on the stereotype of the Sedbergh farmer. "Youre not from round here, are you?" was their greeting to the Wise Men.

"Because our play is very different, we wanted somewhere very different to put it on," explained author and director Stuart Manger. "It needed a community venue, where everyone would feel at ease. It was set in the countryside, and so it needed a performance that reflected in its surroundings the farming that lies at the heart of our community."

All generations took part in the production, from school children to grandparents.

Using the mart for a theatre called for adaptation. Some 300sq ft of roof lights had to be blacked out. Staircases had to be specially made to provide easy access to the tiered seating. With no cattle to get out the iron gates could be removed but their bull proof narrowness meant a squeeze for some playgoers. Carpet underlay specially installed softened the impact of concrete benches on the audience.

One pen remained in animal use throughout the Mystery – for the mother sheep whose two lambs shared a "carry on" part in the nativity scene.

At least the army of volunteers who came in to muck out after each performance had an easy job compared with the normal situation which resumed when sales started two days after the last performance.

Laurence Dopson