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Christopher Leith with two of his puppets

Christopher Leith with two of his puppets, St Scholastica and St Benedict

Tribute to Christopher Leith

HOT contributor, Chandra Masoliver, recently wrote two articles about local Master Puppeteer, Christopher Leith. Several weeks later, Christopher died of motor neurone disease. Chandra reports on the funeral service, which was held on 5 November at Hastings Crematorium, and the wake at the New Inn, Westfield.

Christopher John Leith, master puppeteer (05.07.1942 – 17.10.2015)

 

 

Christopher Leith died on October 17. It felt very sudden, but he had already said “things have been really quite harsh with my condition recently.” I am sorry he couldn’t see the performances of his 3 Stages for Lazarus at the Suspense Festival in London in early November. And I’m glad that the articles I wrote about him in HOT gave him pleasure – and that he took an interest in his life up to the end. It is said that wise people know when it is their time – and they can then let go; that’s how it seemed with Christopher.

The service at Hastings Crematorium was so imbued with his spirit that it was as if he was master puppeteering the event. Indeed, on the cover of the service sheet, his other-worldly face hovers over St Scholastica and St Benedict, rod puppets he carved for his production of Scholastica and the Creation of the Benedictine Rule. He would have approved of the design.

The church was overflowing with his family and friends and we sat listening to the Bach Cello Suite number 1 in G major. I am listening to it now as I write; the music is sad, but beautiful and meticulous, as was Christopher.

Angel Puppet by Christopher Leith

Angel Puppet by Christopher Leith

His friend Julian Rumball, himself a puppeteer who had his own Punch show, read from Christopher’s play Cuthbert and the Otters. Julian helped Christopher so much, including as a roadie/technical person on tours. From the beginning of Christopher’s illness to the time when he became almost totally paralysed, Julian helped him sort and prepare his puppets for distribution to where they would be looked after and used. In the recent performance of 3 Stages for Lazarus at the White Rock theatre, he was invaluable, making ‘controls’, getting puppet bodies ready for stringing and costuming, making scenery and props, and giving general transport and technical assistance.

Next Robbie Vickers, Christopher’s dearest friend over many years, both in London and in Hastings, read from 3 Stages for Lazarus, bringing back to us that recent performance at the White Rock Theatre with Christopher as Master Puppeteer.

Sue Bower, who is a Buddhist, said Christopher disliked the dogma of any organized religion. He was a follower of Jeff Foster and the non-duality concept. I didn’t know this, although I knew his spiritual beliefs were inseparable from his creative energy – and that even people were secondary. He didn’t believe the world is really divided into opposites, ‘up/down’, ‘right/wrong’, etc, but that beyond these man-made patterns there is a world of ‘not two’ (sanskrit ‘advaita’), a life-force of universal love, without separation, which is at the heart of every present moment.

Sue said that he wrestled with a need to control or withdraw, to fix life’s untidiness and suffering. When he became ill, he said “what new hell is this?”. She would go and read to him – and she wished him well “as part of the continuing ocean of consciousness.” He loved Shakespeare, especially his Sonnets and The Tempest and Sue ended with the epilogue, where Prospero, the Master Puppeteer of Master Puppeteers, says good-bye to his magic:

‘As you from crimes would pardoned be
Let your indulgence set me free.’

William Puppet created by Christopher Leith

William Puppet created by Christopher Leith

After a moment of silent reflection, we heard the Gregorian chant Pange Lingua. Christopher had studied Gregorian chant and he used this form of music quite often in his productions, including in Lazarus: the words are always clear and the music is both melodious and sparse.

Christopher’s brother, Richard, read Lindisfarne by Ian Scott Massie in an eerily vivid way, as if he was listening to the words coming from somewhere else; afterwards he denied that it was his own voice, but Christopher’s, finally saying:

‘Listen for my song,
You’ll know it’s me
For I will be the moonlight reflected in the sea.’

Finally, Howard, the MC, read out Cuthbert’s words from Cuthbert and the Otters:

‘Things we hold secret
Can bring us pain –
But brought to light
They themselves become light!’

The service ended with John Cage’s Thirteen Harmonies.

Lindisfarne was special to Christopher. That early Northumbrian church followed the Celtic tradition, and it was where Saint Cuthbert (c 634-686) was in turn monk, bishop, and finally, hermit. It is said that six otters brought the hermit Cuthbert salmon to eat, taking only one bite from the shoulder, as is their custom. So Lindisfarne is where Christopher’s ashes will be scattered. The remains of Saint Cuthbert are in a shrine in Durham Cathedral, and the puppets Christopher carved of Saint Cuthbert and of the otters will go to Durham University. We will all miss him.

If you would like to donate to Motor Neurone Disease Association or St Michael’s Hospice, please click this link” www.christopher.leith.muchloved.com

Read Chandra’s previous HOT articles about Christopher Leith here and here.

 

Posted 10:21 Wednesday, Nov 18, 2015 In: Performance


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