Illuminations: An Anthology of Welsh Short Prose

By Meic Stephens | Go to book overview

Strolling Players

Ffransis G. Payne

We were talking about the theatre. 'When I was a lad,' said the old man, 'I saw a performance given in a tent by a company of strolling players. I have never seen better acting since. Those people could break your heart with just one little gesture . . .' I ventured to agree with him too heartily, perhaps. For he was very annoyed: 'Agree, indeed! What do you know about them? Such people had disappeared long before you were born.' But my friend was mistaken. Yes, I too had seen the strolling players, and I too had felt a pang in the heart.

I should never have done so had not ours been a small country town. You know the kind of place: like Brecon or Builth or Kington. Quiet little places, aren't they? Yet life there is varied and complex. It would be easier to sum up life in London, England, than in Llundain Fach 1 in the vale of Aeron. For in a town like ours you live on a boundary, indeed, on many boundaries. Not only between small town and countryside, but on the boundary between small town and town, and between town and city, too. For in a small country town there are elements of all these. Some are ageless, like the apple-trees in your garden, or the west wind bringing the scent of bracken into the narrow streets. Others are more recent intrusions, like the branch railway from towns to the east, while others such as the Civic Spirit are spiritual vanities from much further afield.

Many people will turn their backs on such a place as soon as they are able, making for the environment they have already tasted from whatever has penetrated the town or lingers there. Isn't it a splendid place that can suggest to its inhabitants the rich variety of other worlds and lives? And to the small town is granted one of the rarest things: time does not hurry there. Some strange power of extension is to be found here, which causes the course of time to overlap before your very eyes. Here remain the old customs of a previous age that have come down from the city and through the town, and so to the small town. The ways of the modern world come too. Though they come late, come they will in turn like the fine clothes of the proud man to his kinsman of lowlier estate. The years dawdle in the small town, for although

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