Graig Du Theatre Players - The Goblin's Chair

During a survey when local people were asked what they would like to see performed by the Graig Du Theatre Players, a surprise awaited the people who collected the information: most of the correspondents were fed up with contemporary drama and wanted to be intrigued by stories that were set in the past. Originality was called for and political views, police stories, contemporary drama of whatever persuasion, were frowned upon. It was, with originality; an obligation of encouraging people back after they have seen a play they liked, that the Graig Du Theatre Players was formed. As time soon tells, if the plays are poor and not up to scratch, audiences will soon fall. It was, with this in mind, that the following example was conceived and written by myself. The neglect of Welsh folklore in plays and television was what was commented on most by the correspondents. The radio play encompasses one aspect of Welsh folklore. The play is complete and tells the story of Thomas Watkins, a farmer from Dinas in the Rhondda, who falls asleep against an oak tree on his farm in 1819. His sleep is troubled, he is haunted by images from childhood when he remembers sitting in the goblin’s chair in the quarry. His mother warned him against this, for it was haunted. . .

 

The laboured breathing of Thomas Watkins can be heard as he mutters, slowly taking a breath. A gentle breeze, heard in the background, sounds like a voice whispering unintelligible words.

 

Thomas:   The old poets understood the harmonies of the air. They mock me now. Even my name seems unbeknownst to me. This emptiness will not leave my mind. I cannot speak a word or think coherently. My sense of smell is no more; all I sense are the fragrances of unseen flowers and apples. The helplessness never seems to have left me as I lay beneath the old tree; my eyes scalding. (Pauses, nervous). I felt so weary. So, I closed my eyes. The sounds from the birds’ chorusing; Peg, with the children in the long-house just below the hill, seemed to go quieter as another presence espied me. The hills of the Rhondda were of little use for farming, except for rearing sheep and the wool we used to take to market and the fulling mill. Vegetables were grown, but they were of a poor quality during the early years when my father marked the boundaries and extended the old long-house into a habitable abode. The cattle byre was turned into a scullery for my mother. (Pauses). This was years ago. They never moved from the farm on Dinas mountain and accepted their lot. Family rarely visited and their life, endless work, was debilitating. My parents relied on each other. Weaknesses of age came and they accepted the inevitability of death. The preacher was eloquent during the funerals at Cymmer Chapel, for they died within a month of each other. The hymns were apt, melancholic as they were sung, as only a few voices of the welsh could sing, and tell of the love my parents had in this pestilence of a world and at their bitter leave taking of it. I now saw the funeral procession as my mother’s coffin was placed in the ground of the graveyard. I, nor my sister, visited the graves afterwards. The old welsh inscriptions on the headstones eroded with the inclement weather over the years. Suddenly, no-one would know who they were and how they had lived. (Pauses and says regretfully). It does no good remembering because it only fills one with rancour, revisiting incidents that cannot be altered. One is damned by words that are uttered in a moment of resentment and then cannot be taken back. I must have slept deeply since I rested against the bole of the gnarled oak tree that was ancient when my father placed the ring fence around it. I can even see the faint outline of a cross, running through the bole of the tree, each side left to right, horizontal, vertical, with its stuttering lines. My father’s face I see as each time I stare into the mirror. His furrowed brow, watery blue eyes, sallow skin, and the flesh of a neck that hangs for no reason whatsoever are exactly like his. The dream I am now experiencing will allow for nothing less. Nothing exists except for the stillness of everything as I experience more sensuousness and sensuality than ever before. My eyes, although closed, see the darkness of the night; stars that first formed in the night sky when man was non-existent. Then the panorama changes, the orbs of light were really gods and goddesses cavorting as they responded to the primal urges and dreams of the creatures on Earth that dreamt of them. The light and darkness coalesced. I understood words and conversations around me that I had no meaning to.  The echo of the voice that was the first to sing rose in a crescendo of knowingness. Everything sacerdotal spoke as the words and gentleness of its rhythmic cadence sent me into a deeper state of unconsciousness. I did not know whether I was dreaming, or I was witnessing a procession of ideals, as they trespassed on my fragile sensibilities. The dream became a journey that was endless as my mind coursed through the constellations: I became a wanderer whose spirit surged with contrition. (Pauses and says gently). Did I sleep beneath the tree that morning, guarded by the cross on which Christ perished? My remembrance counted for so little as the panorama faded, colours changed into magnificent edifices that knew no boundaries as they stretched into the sky. The darkness came once more. My weeping was all that I heard as I tried to reason the wondrous spectacle I had been allowed to witness. The gloom did little for my composure as I heard the voices again and my eyes adjusted, slightly apprehensive of the misshapen figures I saw gesticulating to each other on the walls of a cavern. This aeon did not cease. Though the language was ancient, its guttural tone unspoken for millennia, I understood the undertones. The implication meant I was trapped within my own mind, envisioning what only the eyes and soul may see when they are to be judged. No one could understand my fear. It meant little to reproach them. They would only scorn me and raise wearisome blandishments at my weaknesses. (Pauses). Could death be a troubled sleep? Had my body become paralysed, eroding my ability to call for aid? My eyes did not open. I could not feel my arms or legs. The blood had stopped pounding in my ears as I cried out for someone to understand my predicament. Where were Peg and my children? They must have been searching for me by now. I had become wretched. My hand grasped something tightly. I forced myself to concentrate on what was cutting into the palm of my hand, causing blood to run between my fingers. Would my predicament never end? I felt my perceptions gradually lessen, not offering me respite, but compelling me to sit once more in the Goblin’s chair that was to be found carved into a rock in the quarry above the farm. I was warned not to go there by my mother because she said it was haunted. I went one day and sat down in the small chair: obviously fashioned by the weather throughout the centuries. After looking through the crack in the stone that was above the arch, I sensed something that was perceived by my young mind as a misshapen dwarf, who had green, lank hair, and whose body was covered in green earth. Worms fell from his eyes. He had a white dog by the side of him, with red ears. The dog’s eyes belied an intelligence that was not canine. Now, I found myself speaking with this denizen of the earth and he demanded the pearl I held in my blood-stained hand. As I opened my fist, he muttered unintelligible words, clapping his hands with a staccato that was thunderous. The dog licked my face and whispered I was no longer in abeyance. (Pauses and says with shame). The shivering did not leave my body as I awoke. I heard the dwarf’s scabrous tones as he said “You should never have gone to sleep under the bewitched tree, little Thomas. I did warn you all those years ago when, as a child, you were so inquisitive. Now, what the eye perceives is a truth that is denied to many. To dream of death is not to fear. You asked your father once if there was somewhere good where we went after we died? (Pauses, laughing). He did not answer at first because he was so ashamed that a boy of your age could ask an intelligible question about heaven. Do you remember what he replied, boy?” My protestations would mean so little to my tormentor. My father was a practical man. He told me: “A solution is to be found when you are older and more understanding of life. To surmise now is not recommended, Thomas. You will come to realize when you least expect it. I can say no more.” (Pauses and says warily). It was with a weary heart that I got to my feet. My senses had returned. Even though my legs were cramped, I soon felt the blood coursing through my veins as I stretched them. I did not feel so despondent as I saw the familiar landmarks and this was my only consolation. For a moment, I thought the ground was frozen, snow had fallen, and the grass and stone were petrified. My jaw pained me no more as the toothache I had earlier that morning lessened. I felt at peace with myself, the strange dreams forgotten, ridiculed, as I walked along the old path towards the long-house. The smoke rose from the chimney and I knew my repast awaited me. In my eagerness to be home, I did not notice the boundary walls had been repointed and that the old path was now covered with a stone sediment that I little recognized. The back door was newly painted and, as I went to take my boots off, I noticed ochre on the soles that had set like mortar. The door opened. A pretty girl brushed past me whom I did not recognize. “Peg, “I shouted. “Why didn’t you tell Elias to wake me if I fell asleep under the old tree? I was too tired to do any work. Should have stayed home as you said, girl” There was no reply. Food was cooking. A fire raged in the grate. Where was everyone? My fear never left my heart as I did not recognize my home. My face looked no different when I stared into the mirror as a child’s voice said: “You have come home at last, Thomas?” I turned around and saw the cradle being rocked back and fore by invisible hands.  “Three generations have passed since you disappeared, old man. Christmas 1819 was to be celebrated on January 6th. They searched for you and knew you must have been cursed after falling asleep under the old tree. Come closer, so I can see you. You should remember my voice. The babe is an innocent and I can speak though him. (Laughs). The voice of the little dog you knew has little altered, my friend. The mother put a cross on the boy’s forehead, dabbed from the juice of a banana skin.  The protection is adequate to an extent. He will not remember this. You cannot speak now because your body will turn to dust once you step outside the farmhouse. You have much to ask and I cannot answer all your questions. You dreamt of death that day. There is a cessation of how long you dream until you eventually forget.”  The baby then went to sleep. I remembered the voice of the little dog. The baby reminded me of Elias, as a baby. Oh, he must be dead also after all these years! What of Peg and Morfydd? What become of my girls after I failed to return home? My only thought now was that their descendants still owned the farm and the land. My girl would have given me tansy and horehound to cure me of this burdensome illness I had. There would have been no suffering if I had fallen asleep in my chair by the fire. The girl has come back, couching the crying baby who can see me, pointing at something his mam cannot see. I took one last, despairing look at all that I had once known and stepped outside into the yard. My tears hid my shade as my body faded into nothingness, crumbled into motes of dust, as I slept once more . . .

 

 

Thomas’s voice fades out.

 

 

(The End)

 

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