Monday, 12 February 2007

ship of fools

Bosch Ship Of Fools The idea of a "Ship of Fools" goes way back into medieval times and there are many depictions of the scene of 'fools' being sent away by boat to another place.

There are several famous recreations of this idea, through time including Hieronymous Bosch's paining, The narrative by Sebastian Brant, with its illustrations by the fledging Albrecht Durer and more up to date renditions in the Richard Paul Russo novel and a topical new play by Andrew Bovell, to be presented at Theatre 503.

Brant: The first long version was 1452's "Das Narrenschiff", where Brant describes 110 assorted follies and vices, each undertaken by a different fool. The chapters are linked by the theme of a ship which will take the fools to Narragonia, the island of fools.

Bosch: The 1495 Bosch painting contains embedded symbolism including an owl in a tree and the crescent flying from the ship's flag as symbols of heresy. The lute and bowl of cherries have erotic associations and the people in the water may represent the sins of gluttony or lust. The inverted funnel is symbolic of madness and the large roast bird is a symbol of gluttony. The knife being used to cut it down may be symbolic of the sin of anger. In its day, showing the monk and a nun are singing together had symbolic erotic overtones since men and women in monastic orders were supposed to be separate.

Russo: In the 2001 Russo novel, a class-stratified people travelling on the Antioch, a huge space ship, have forgotten the original reason for their mission. A deserted planet suitable for human life is sending a simple signal. This planet holds a gruesome symbol of evil, but divides the Spaceship's inhabitants, with the under-classes wishing to colonise the planet. After a failed mutiny, the ship sets out to follow the beacon signal to its target, where they discover a huge further spaceship, which is ultimately as horrific as some of the content of the planet. They have followed the signal to a situation which could ultimately kill them, and in a 'devil and the deep blue sea' moment decide that many of the Antioch's inhabitants will return to the planet, whilst the Antioch tries to drag the alien ship into another dimension. A thought provoking look into the head of a protagonist in this situation of dispair.

Bovell: And now, with the 2007 Theatre 503 production of Andrew Bovell's play, we see two journeys with two sets of travellers, five hundred years apart.

Firstly, in 1492, Basel's town council summons the city's 'fools' comprising outcasts, handicapped, homosexuals and subversives. They are herded onto a ship and floated down the Rhine into permanent exile.

Then forward to 2007 in Britain and a populist initiative in which the government selects a group of long-term unemployed, bundles them onto a bus and drives them deep into the unknown to work for their dole. Theatre 503 and Strike Ensemble present a riotous and compelling exploration of how society deals with its outsiders.

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