Forgotten objects remind us of times gone by

02:07, Jun 16 2014
PAST REVEALED: The seats are gone from the Church St Playhouse but oh what relics they left behind.

Relics from times past can be hugely evocative. We touch or see items from thousands of years ago and try to imagine what it was like to have been there.

Some reconstructions are based on empirical evidence and are as true as they can be. However it is also very subjective as we put our own beliefs, feelings and experiences into the relic and conjure up a whole new world that suits us.

Currently scientists are having a ball at the feet of the 40,000 year old remains of a woolly mammal found in Siberia. It is now in London's Natural History Museum and undergoing a battery of forensic tests.

Apparently it slipped into some mud and died quickly. It had milk in its stomach. We can picture a herd of woolly mammals grazing contentedly. The little one has just suckled its mother, nosed in her dung to get the important bacteria into its stomach and feeling perky it starts to frolic and slips off the cliff.

The mother rushes to edge bellowing frantically, and as the blood red sun sets in that prehistoric dusk we see the mother lowing painfully, bidding farewell to its offspring which will cause much joy and interest 40,000, years later.

Fast forward tens of thousands of years to London's South Bank, Shakespeare's Globe. Archaeologists have been finding more and more of the original Globe. Evidence shows that the those who had the cheapest "seats" paid a penny, (about the same as a day's wages), to stand in an area in front of the stage.


They were called "groundlings or "stinkards" for obvious reasons. They ate nuts and urinated where they could.

Shakespeare alludes to them in Henry VIII. "These are the youths that thunder at a playhouse, and fight for bitten apples". And another contemporary commentator said: "You will see such heaving and shoving, such itching and shouldering to sit by the women, such care for their garments that they be not trod on ... such toying, such smiling, such winking, such manning them home ... that it is a right comedy to mark their behaviour".

You can hear their comments on watching Hamlet. "That Ophelia's a bit of a goer", " 'amlet's Mum reminds me of 'er indoors"." That 'amlet's a tosser - can't make up his mind".

Slow forward half a frame to another playhouse in Church Street, Timaru. The removal of the seating in preparation of development has revealed a beguiling picture of theatre-goers in the last few decades.

Detritus from patrons have been left with potential for a fascinating forensic exercises. Chocolate wrappers denoting a better class of patron? One unwrapped chocolate with an indent. Was it discarded because it was soft centred? Is it a metaphor for the play that was being watched? And was it spurned by the would-be loved one, the end of a beautiful friendship.

And items dating from the late 90s signifying a milestone in our evolutionary journey - water bottles carried from the fear of death though instant dehydration. These have been left behind, some still half full. Did the bottle owner find the play wet enough or did they mislay their bottles to suffer from an outrageous thirst during the final act?

The most evocative relic was a ticket stub - seats 12A and 12B - for a "Mr and Mrs B Smith"- clearly a non de plume for a clandestine rendezvous. These are aisle seats which allow for entry in semi-darkness just before the start of the play and quick departure at the end.

Did their identity remain hidden or were they rumbled by an officious usher?

The woolly mammal's remains, nut shells of the Globe and the ticket stubs, chocolate wraps and bottles in the Church Street Playhouse all give us a sense of history and milestones on our evolutionary journey.

They give us a perspective and provide colour and meaning. All that is needed is a relic, a florid imagination and half a mind to write about it.

The Timaru Herald