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Fred's Fairy Dell

Saturday, 17th January 2004
Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

first design - tendrilsThe first scene I've to paint for our local amateur production of Snow White is the opening one: a fairy dell. In fact, thanks to a slight twist in the old tradition of pantomime, the fairy is played by Fred, in a pink dress, complete with wings. But magic is magic and we want this scene to get people into a mood where they suspend disbelief for the evening. With Fred in his pink dress, that's going to take some doing.

He has a pink-with-gold-spots fly agaric toadstool to sit on, in the centre of the scene.

My first thought as to how to paint the backdrop was that fairies are associated with life and growth. I thought of Richard Dadd's Victorian vision The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke (1855-64) set amongst the grasses on an intensely observed patch of the woodland floor. Too sinsister. And I thought of Shakespeare's:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act ii. Sc. 1.

No, that's going to be a bit too botanical and, away from my computer and books, I can't think what sort of plant eglantine is. I start sketching the tendrils and fruits (above) but realise this is going to be too fussy. The design runs across a screen of four 8 ft flats. I need some structure.

Old Oak

old tree

With A Midsummer Night's Dream at the back of my mind it seems obvious that the structure in a woodland scene would be provided by a tree. As Treebeard the Ent has recently appeared in The Lord of the Rings movies perhaps the audience could accept that a tree could be a friendly familiar of a fairy, not a scary haunted old oak. But, no, it has too much of a Halloween look to it.

Fairy dell

So this is more or less how it turned out: a kind of bower, bedecked with buttercups and bluebells (there's a Fairy Buttercup and a Fairy Bluebell in the story) and some giant-sized purple agarics as bookends, framing the central one. That should hint at the sort of mass-hallucigenic sort of evening of entertainment the audience should expect . . . next page

Richard Bell

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