The blackwater bride
A Chilwell Arts Theatre production
Principal characters in the drama:
James Miller – a bank manager
Catriona Miller – his daughter
Constance Miller – his wife, her mother
Detective Sergeant Bryan Culley – a young policeman
Mrs. Hubbard – proprietess of a very exclusive establishment for gentlemen
The Blackwater Bride – a mystery
The setting is Glasgow and, briefly, Dumfries in the year 1893.
As a teenager, after school, I would sometimes catch a bus from the Glasgow suburb where I lived, travelling to 'inner city' Govanhill to stay overnight with my Grandmother. On autumn and winter nights I would often get off the bus a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way, this taking me through a maze of Victorian tenements lit against the dark by the amber, almost sepia, light of the street lamps. I developed this slightly peculiar habit because, as a precocious devourer of Sherlock Holmes stories and Victorian Gothic tales from Jekyll & Hyde to Dorian Grey, I could almost feel as if I had stepped, there in the latter 20th. Century, directly into the Victorian landscape of those tales, making up stories of my own as I went along. After all, my Bancroft Classics edition of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, bought in the childrens' section of Woolworths, featured a pen and ink illustration of Mister Hyde evading the police by jumping a fence into a tenement backyard... which was the exact spitting image of my Grandmother's yard.
And then I would reach my Grandmother's tenement and settle by her gas fire and, after tea, she would teach me the art of storytelling, spinning extravagantly detailed yarns that ranged from fairy and folk tales to her own retellings of the old black and white films she loved so much... Gaslight, The Spiral Staircase, Frankenstein: the films themselves, when I later saw them, would often pale by comparison with the vivid, thrilling images she put in my head with simple word and gesture. I suppose tonight's show is a kind of tribute to her, Jessie Downs, my first and greatest master in the art of storytelling.
It was inevitable, when I began to seriously write and perform myself, that I would want to bring all those influences together in a single story... Celtic myth and legend, the whole genre of 'gaslit Gothic', and the Victorian Gothic landscape of Glasgow itself. I first wrote tonight's story as a conventional play – and in fact it was the first piece I ever had performed. But I always longed to give it a second life, to rework it for the particular form of one man storytelling I have made my own. In that first stage-play version, in fact, I had my young Scots heroine from Dumfries travel to London for her mysterious adventure. Living in Glasgow at the time, Glasgow suddenly seemed too familiar to me to play the role of a city of bewildering strangeness. Now that I have been living in the East Midlands for more than a decade, however, still joined at the heartstrings to Glasgow but separated from it by hundreds of miles, my home city exists for me more as a city of the mind, of memory embroidered by imagination, than a place of direct daily experience. Thus it has taken on, in my mind, just that quality of 'otherness' necessary for the city in this story. Sigmund Freud, in his essay on the supernatural tale, said that 'The Uncanny' (or in German, the unheimlich, the un-homely) is not simply the utterly strange, the wholly alien, but the homely that has become 'unhomely', the familiar that has been rendered strange, as our dreams spin fantastic landscapes and adventures out of things we knew very common-sensibly hours or years before in the wakeful day. Glasgow was my home and is now my un-home... it haunts me, simply put, like a ghost.
And it is, therefore, now the perfect setting for my uncanny tale -- which means a journey back to my roots as a storyteller, walking those Govanhill streets on lamp-lit winter evenings, imagining the strange and wondrous characters who might step out of the shadows at any moment – and begin telling me their story. To those Glasgow shadows, I likewise dedicate The Blackwater Bride.
MARTY ROSS is a Glasgow-born, Nottingham-based storyteller and playwright, best known for a string of BBC radio plays, ranging from 2002's A Hundred Miles to 2012's Rough Magick (available from the BBC's AudioGo site) and 2013's Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk, as well as the Radio 4 series The Darker Side Of The Border and the Radio 4 Extra serials Catch My Breath & Ghost Zone. Commissioned for 2014 is a drama for Radio Scotland, The Dead Of Fenwick Moor, to be broadcast later this year. He has also written two Doctor Who audio dramas, Night's Black Agents & The Lurkers At Sunlight's Edge (available on CD and as download), as well as the Dark Shadows audio drama Dress Me In Dark Dreams (nominated for a 2013 Scribes award). The Wireless Theatre Company have produced Medusa On The Beach, Blood And Stone (nominated for a 2012 Rondo Award) and Redder Than Roses: A Glimpse Of Mary, Queen Of Scots, which was commissioned by the 2013 Buxton Festival. A new play, a ghost story set at Chatsworth House, has been commissioned for this year's Buxton Festival. His novel Aztec Love Song is published by Weathervane Press. Two other novels, Glasgow, Like A Stranger and Dances Sacred & Profane are available from Amazon's kindle store. His stage plays have been performed at the likes of Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, the Liverpool Everyman & London's Finborough and Warehouse theatres.
As a live storyteller, he has performed everywhere from traditional theatre spaces to Scottish and German mountainsides, having first developed his storytelling skills while working as a guide on long distance hiking trips. The Blackwater Bride is his third show at Chilwell Arts Theatre and he has also performed in Nottingham's libraries and a couple of its classier cafes, as well as two years running at the London Horror Festival. Last year, at the Edinburgh Fringe, his show 21st. Century Poe was a considerable success and he will be performing there again this August. His repertoire runs from folk tales to his own versions of literary classics to his own stories. His website is: www.martyrossstoryteller.blogspot.co.uk and he tweets at @martyrosswriter
Special thanks to Michael at Chilwell Arts, to Stewart and Ted and Emma, to Helen & Ceri, & to all involved with the original Jordanhill production, especially Jill & Laurance.