“Welcome onboard The Somerset Charabanc” cries Pete, our bowler-hatted host, as we huddle together on a hand-crafted miller’s cart with twelve other curious passengers, who are all wondering what’s in store for us over the next couple of hours!
It’s pulled by two beautiful horses, Barney and George, with Ivan guiding and taking great care of them …
... and you could definitely describe the cart as ‘open-top’, but as Pete goes on to explain, it was “designed with 100% comfort in mind, utilising a natural air conditioning system that is typical of the period ” ;).
Well, we all giggle at that description as we set off on a mysterious adventure that takes us on a “good old gawk” around Somerset, because let’s face it… an evening on a horse and cart trundling through the stunning Somerset Levels, with characters jumping on and off it involving us all in their story of love, marriage, peril and disaster doesn’t sound like your typical night out, does it? ;) (not where we normally go anyway!)
And that’s exactly why we love it.
When you step on board The Somerset Charabanc, you become part of the story – part of a truly unique, immersive theatre experience that captures the imagination of everyone on board. As the tall tale unfolds (travelling from Huish Episcopi through Langport to Muchelney and back), you’re part of the story of Sam and Evie - two young lovers who just met that day and who are desperate to marry and spend the rest of their lives together.
There’s only one small spanner in the works. Evie’s really an eel (yes, you heard us right ;)) and because of their love for one another, and the magical legend of ‘Eelie Day’, the pair have 24 hours to decide whether they’ll spend the rest of their days as humans or eels! Believe me, that’s not a decision to be taken lightly either, especially when there’s some pretty significant history to be thought through and a force to be reckoned with by the name of Alice! She isn’t too keen on the union, put it that way…
All the action takes place on the cart, apart from a couple of stop off’s when we bear witness to Sam and Evie’s Riverside marriage (we were on the bride/eel side – we do look a bit slippery I guess! ;))
… and when we make it to the beautiful church in Muchelney, where a few unexpected characters are waiting …
We won’t spoil the awesome surprises, but with songs, laughs, tears and fun along the way, the journey is an absolute joy and had us captivated from start to finish. We felt priviledged to be part of it, so if you get the chance to experience it, our advice would be "snap it up big time"!
The Somerset Charabanc has been made possible by public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and South Somerset District Council. The idea itself was developed by the Wassail Theatre Company, a Somerset-based charity that aims to unite communities through inspiring stories – and the creation of a new Somerset myth is right at the very heart of this particular one.
As Nick White, who wrote and produced the play (and is also the lovely Pete), told us:
“We wanted to create a myth that steals, snatches and borrows from more established ones, to tell a new tale – one that connects all the places you’re taken to as the show unfolds,”
- and the story definitely does that. There’s real charm to it, as well as some genuine underlying messages about our own behaviour and how that influences the world around us.
Director Joanna Procter has done a fantastic job and the whole cast put their hearts and souls in to the performance, making it a pleasure to be caught up in the story of Sam and Evie. We particularly love Alice, who has absolutely no problem popping herself down on the knees of unsuspecting Charabanc guests :)
We spent the whole time with big smiles on our faces and can’t wait to see what this cool little theatre company comes up with next. As The Charabanc is now sold out for LangFest17, a little bird tells us there’ll be more incarnations of it soon, and as Nick says:
“The idea is to take The Charabanc to different parts of Somerset. Maybe one day you’ll see it circumnavigating Glastonbury Tor, lolloping over the Mendips or rising up and down through Exmoor”.
Now that would definitely be something to see! ;) We’ll keep you updated of course and you can also follow Wassail Theatre on Instagram.
Our review in three words: Magical, unexpected, unique.
(Our reaction when we got off the cart – YEAH BABY!!! That was awesome ;)).
P.S. If you’re lucky enough to make it on to The Charabanc, we definitely recommend going to the loo beforehand… unless you want to use the in-cart Thunderpot of course ;)