Port Eliot Lit Fest & the House of Fairytales - By Genie
2007 marked the 5th year of Port Eliot Lit fest, a literary happening in the stunning landscaped grounds of Port Eliot Castle in Cornwall. This "Glastonbury for books" ran from July 21-23, the weekend the rest of the country was flooded. Reports of a water logged Westway seemed hard to believe as we strolled around the estate in glorious sun.
In addition to writers like Hanif Kureshi discussing their work, this year included an art exhibition in the castle entitled The Avatar of Sacred Discontent curated by Wolfe Lenkiewicz and Flora Fairbairn and stand up comedy with the acerbic Simon Munnery. Tucked away behind the hedges, in the Rhododendron Gardens was the House of Fairy Tales. Dreamt up by artists Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis, it was a delight for children of all ages.
A festival within a festival, it had several spaces; The Enchanted Forrest, a large tent which housed puppet and mask making workshops by day and performances by night, a House of Mirrors, a magical hexagonal box with views into an array of tiny scenes, an Alice in Wonderland tent on a village green populated with weird and wonderful characters and the Living Books Project, a series of works inspired by Hans Christian Anderson from paintings to puppet shows.
Upon entering the House of Fairytales you gained your passport to fairyland. Not just a program, this set a number of quests e.g. “Find the Sage. Whisper the last thing you dreamt in his ear and ask him to tell you what it means”. On completion, the seekers gained medals classified by the different characters they had met – Pragmatist, Alchemist, Futurist etc.
Escapologists included Gavin Turk as Hansell and real life partner Deborah Curtis as Gretel. Sculptor Jane Simpson transformed into the Fairy Godmother or Fairly Good Mother giving out Aerialist medals to children able to spin a tall tale of their own. Veteran theatre performer Claudia Boulton was an Extremist, presenting Tantric tales from India about the quest for enlightenment.
Bob and Roberta Smith aka Patrick Brill was a Futurist. In his workshop, he dressed the children as Shane McGowan with blacked out teeth and dark shades. They waved the Apathy Band slogans; “Nothing Changes Anything”, “Demoralize the Motivated” and sang the “Fairytale of New York” badly - well, this was the apathy band and they simply couldn’t be bothered to stay in tune.
In the blazing afternoon sun, Futurist Peter Bond presented his postmodern fairytale “Robin and Little Red Riding Hoody Hoody”, whose adolescent heroes refuse to be pigeonholed by their clothes or gender. His deconstruction of the common fable worked on many levels - slapstick humour for children and double entendre for adults who understood why Red might want to ride the beast.
Blazing an anarchic trail through Wonderland was street artist No Nose best known for his spiky potato sculptures on top of London bus stops, like bombs from space. After stirring up trouble for stealing a Pragmatist medal (makes sense when you think about it), he declared independence from the fairy beaurocracy and proclaimed his own free state, flying the flag of No Can Do. Throughout the weekend, his invading army of sculptures gradually took over the garden, fascinating adults and children alike.
The sole Alchemist was the Hurdy Gurdy Mushroom Man. Behind a mysterious and rather scary mask was artist Mark Hammond, who constructs mushrooms from pieces of spent fireworks.
In her Magic Gong Wash, zen master Ping (Jacqueline Genie) blindfolded the children and cleansed their auras with the vibrations of her Japanese gong. Before the lit fest, Port Eliot was the site of the 1970s hippy festival The Elephant Fair and something of that spirit lives on in the House of Fairytales.
Late Sunday afternoon, the fairies emerged from the Rhododendron Gardens and led a procession throughout the festival. Now out of context, this motley crew of eccentrics provoked some strange looks from some of the straighter punters satisfied with their poetry and Pims.
The fairies climbed to the top of the hill, which gives a breathtaking view of the entire estate. This is the burial site of Jago Eliot, the eldest son of Peregrine Eliot, the Earl of St Germans and founder of the festival. A sometime magician, champion surfer and cyber artist, Jago died last year age 40 and the House of Fairytales was created as a tribute to him by his friends.
After a few moving words and songs, the fairies headed back to the enchanted forest for live music, dancing, plenty of fairy juice (read cider) and the obligatory happy ending for all.