The Mare’s Tale

for actor and ensemble

Mark Bowden

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for actor and ensemble

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Composer Mark Bowden
Year of Composition 2013
Duration ca.55'
Forces cl/bcl, bn, tpt/flugel, tbn, perc, vln, vla, db
Categories (all composers) , ,
Catalogue ID ce-mb1mt1


The Mare’s Tale was commissioned in 2012 by Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra, inspired by Stravinsky’s model in The Soldier’s Tale of a spoken narrative set to music. The orchestra’s artistic director James Slater and I turned for a theme to drawings I had made in 1999 exploring my late father’s terror when confronted by a Mari Lwyd as a small boy in rural Monmouthshire.

One of the oldest Welsh midwinter traditions, the Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) embodied pagan beliefs in the cult of the horse. Essentially a type of puppet made from a horse’s skull nailed atop a pole and draped in a sheet, the Mari turned out with groups of night-time mummers at the turn of the year. My father suppressed all memory of the sheeted horror that had once come at him out of the dark, but the trauma of it stuck fast in his psyche and rose up to ambush him at the end of his life.

Damian Walford Davies and Mark Bowden were commissioned to write the words and music while I created visual concepts and prepared to direct the production. Damian developed the theme of a psychological haunting, reworking my father’s experience into a fiction around the invented character of Morgan Seyes. Mark responded with a score that included dark variations on a traditional Welsh Mari Lwyd ballad sung by revellers demanding entrance to homes along their route.

In the preview at Theatr Brycheiniog in September 2013, all six speaking characters were played by Eric Roberts on a twenty-foot skewed tower which suggested both the different locations and Morgan’s mental vulnerability. His wife and various manifestations of the ‘night mare’ were embodied by puppets. Live and pre-filmed sequences conjuring the passage of time and apparitions rising from Morgan’s past were streamed to a projection-screen above the on-stage orchestra.

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