BLOG Lee Tisdale

NWR Issue r36

The Lepidoctor

Ceredigion Museum: a great visual representation of times already passed, separated from modern society by a mere doorframe. Within, there was a storyteller of great calibre waiting to share a tale with me.

On 22 February, I entered a large theatre and found Nicola Hart, who performs as Milly Jackdaw, sitting in a secluded corner with twelve chairs laid out before her in neat rows of four. I wondered if there was going to be enough room for everyone attending, but only three people, including myself, showed up. As far as I know, the other two people were friends of Jackdaw’s. When the time came to start the storytelling, I and another person sat on the small antique bench that was already there and moved the rest of the chairs, aside from one chair for the third person, into the corner, sectioning ourselves off from the world. After listening to her re-telling of Mick Jackson’s 'The Lepidoctor', my mind was blown: why had no-one shown up to this event?

'The Lepidoctor' is the tale of a young boy who sees and is disturbed by, a museum exhibition of murdered butterflies. Upon finding a lepidoctor’s kit, he devises a plan to bring them back from the dead. It is a great tale about compassion for even the tiniest of creatures, showcasing the tension and justification of trespassing for moral benefit; a stark reminder that the sinners will never outrun karma.

I have to credit Jackdaw on the choice of venue: reference was made to the display chemist shop that was right next to us, and most of the story did take place in a museum. We were encouraged to take a look at the chemist shop right before the story began, and I took a mental note of the old shaving blades and enema kits lining the glass display case and the fully stocked drug cabinet with the giant mirror in the middle, my reflection gazing back at me.

The protagonist of the story, Baxter Campbell, has an interest in fixing and collecting old gadgets, despite the modern world around him and their obsession with newer technology. Aware that outside of our historical space, iPhones and tablet PCs were circulating, the experience felt more authentic. I could feel my headphones cuddling my neck, and I wondered if I was breaking some kind of rule by bringing them.

A small girl, no more than seven was present. Every few minutes or so while Jackdaw told the story, she would shyly poke her head around the corner, or over the little dusty barrier that had been placed to keep the atmosphere warm. Her parents were constantly ushering her away from the scene, but she would always return to eavesdrop. Like a moth to a flame she was drawn to the story, lulled in by the skilful re-telling. But what about this storytelling was so magical?

There was a certain wonder in Jackdaw’s voice, something engaging and hypnotic about her delivery. Her physical movements and body language made each scene easy to visualise and brought every word to life. There were several yawns from the two people beside me, and I found myself suppressing sudden fatigue. The antique chair we sat on was soft enough to sink into, and the closed-off corner became increasingly restful, as if our little space was in its own old-fashioned world. I can only imagine that the young girl was curious, and considered crossing the threshold into the world of the butterflies.

I felt like a child being read a bedtime story. A comforting sensation that is rare to find in our modern world.

After the story and inevitable applause were over, I briefly spoke to Jackdaw and gained insight into the values of storytelling. We talked about resounding images, microcosms of entire stories that remain with the reader even if the whole story is not remembered. For me, 'The Lepidoctor' remains through the living embodiment of the museum display: the giant colourful butterfly looming vengefully over the antagonist (the museum owner) with his baggy shorts and his hat. His own creation; alive before his very eyes. That beautiful moment where justice is served in the greatest way possible will forever stay in my mind.

Jackdaw has events in Ceredigion Museum on 7 March and 8 April, Ceredigion What's On, and I highly urge you to attend them both. The way in which she creates a welcoming atmosphere for her engaging storytelling proves that heart is put into Jackdaw’s work. This event definitely deserved more of a hearing than it got.

Lee Tisdale is one of this season’s Digital Cultural Correspondent in a new partnership with Aberystwyth University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.


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