Vic Hoyland

Head and Two Tails

Cock and his hens, wolf and fox

Robin Tebbut as Wulf. Me on the floor.

Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, 1984

It consists of Bitch, Dumb Show and Foxed.

Dumb Show is a standalone work, as well as part of Head and Two Tails

Bitch’ tells of lust thwarted, then fulfilled by trickery and deception. It is delivered by Wolf (also in ‘Foxed’), in the manner of an open-air market trader who sells cheap stuff off the back of a lorry - a scoundrel and a charming chancer/entertainer.

Its text is a rewrite of ‘Dame Sirith and the Weeping Bitch’, whipped into shape by my colleague, David Hirst, at Birmingham University’s Drama Department.

Foxed’ tells in comic-strip fashion, another Renard fable; hard to forget Stravinsky – however, this version has a well with two buckets and despite the sounds made, my characters are not animals but people drawn from the 30’s world of the American movie. So: Fox is a young, fast-on-his-feet gangster, Wolf is a gigolo, Cock is a pimp, and his hens are women of easy virtue.

Dumb Show performance

Written specifically for the music theatre group Vocem and especially for the singer/dancer/actors Alan Belk and Fran Lynch.

'Dumb Show' is radical in my output of music theatre. The Anglo-Saxon poems are drawn from “The Riddles of the Exeter Book” and reveal a dream world of resemblances and crossed identities, full of shapes unknown, surreal and enchanted. I was reminded forcibly of the painter Magritte: a man with one eye and twelve hundred heads, a bird that sings through her wriggling foot, a cock-like Christ, an onion and a key pushing and throbbing for attention “full under shirt”. Of the ninety or so riddles I chose six: urine, loom-shuttle, key, mimic sing-bird, rune-maker, and onion. In re-creating the warmth, wit, bawdy fantasy, magic and joy, I’ve tried to create something very new out of something very old.

Rune-maker is delivered in modern English and tells of the magic of words that heal separation. The remainder are delivered in Anglo-Saxon.

No matter: the vocal qualities and specific choreographed actions render meanings clear enough.

Dumb Show is performed as if in split-screen with the performers each tied to a square grid 8’ x 8’. The upstage percussionist/puppet master plays dance-band kit and his stick actions are coordinated with the activities on stage.