An interview with REED N-E’s new PhD student, Mr Jamie Beckett

Mr Jamie Beckett joins the REED North-east from the university of York. Here he is interviews by research associate Dr Mark Chambers:

  1. MC:  Jamie Beckett, welcome to the REED-North-east team! First of all, tell us about your educational background:  what kinds of past research projects have led you to want to join REED-NE?

 JB:  Before joining the REED-NE team in Durham I spent four years at the University of York, first completing an undergraduate degree in English and History and then going on to an interdisciplinary MA in Medieval Studies. The scholarship I was exposed to at York, as well as the physical landscape of the city itself, inspired my passion for late medieval urban culture. In York you cannot escape the influence of the city’s famous Corpus Christi Cycle of ‘Mystery Plays’, which instantly captured my attention. Completing projects both with the University and with heritage groups on civic and bourgeois institutions in York, including hospitals, guildhalls and parish churches, also led to an interest in civic government and the role of performance in late medieval towns and cities more generally.

I’m particularly interested in the association of performances with social practices, especially the interaction of people, places and the narratives which they choose to identify with. I was especially drawn to the REED-NE project due to the nature of the region in the late medieval period, with towns and cities including York, Hull and Newcastle experiencing economic upheaval and considerable social change at a time in which records of drama in the region were flourishing.

  1. MC:  Do you have a working thesis title yet, Jamie, and what will be the nature of your research (i.e., what topics will it cover)?

JB:  The working title of my thesis is currently “The Relevance of Laughter and the Comic to Records of Early English Drama in the North-East”. This remains extremely broad at the moment as I’m still considering the parameters of my study, but in essence I’m looking at the way in which laughter and the comic elements of performance narratives interact with, influence and reflect social practices in the region. So much humour is evident in the surviving play scripts we have access to, yet in my opinion we sometimes fail to deem it worthy of enough investigation.

I’m currently focussing on the relationship of Noah and his wife, as portrayed in surviving biblical dramas found in York, Newcastle and the Towneley MS (which lacks a definite geographical attribution). The comic interaction of these two figures has been well documented and realised in many modern productions, yet I want to look at them with closer regard to the region.

3. MC:  Noah and his wife – very interesting figures for study, especially given their apparently unique portrayals in the medieval North East. So who will be supervising your thesis, and why do you think he/she is well suited to support your research?

JB:  My thesis is being supervised by Barbara Ravelhofer and John McKinnell, both of whom offer a huge pool of knowledge on both the region and the workings of dramatic production and performance in general. Although Barbara’s focus is generally on a later period than that which I have chosen to study, her input on ideas of movement, form and social performance are extremely useful, as is John’s considerable experience of both the practical and ideological staging of drama in the region.

  1. MC:  What is it about early English drama that attracted you to the project? Is it something for which you have an affinity? Or personal experience?

JB:  I was attracted to the project primarily through my interest in the York Corpus Christi Cycle – elements of which I explored in both my BA and MA dissertations. I find the study of civic performance incredibly interesting for the way in which they and influenced by – and correspondingly, inform – contemporary life.

I relished a chance in 2011 to aid York Theatre Royal and the Riding Lights Theatre Company in their staging of the Mystery Plays in 2012, working with a team to help producers, directors and staff gain a broader picture of the Corpus Christi Cycle and its relationship with the city. I also love to perform myself, having taken part in several plays with ‘The Lords of Misrule’, a York drama company dedicated to staging early plays, as well as the University of York Pantomime Society.

I love the vitality and humour often present in early drama, and I’m excited by the chance to explore this further within the all-important regional setting of the North-East.

MC:  Thank you very much, Jamie. It sounds a very interesting thesis indeed. We look forward to learning more about your progress and research in future!

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