Friday, January 3, 2014

The Ghost of Illiam Dhone

Although William Christian (Illiam Dhone) was executed a little over 350 years ago, his story continues to both fascinate and divide the people of the Isle of Man as they consider the evidence, which, depending upon your point of view, shows him as either a patriot or a traitor.
His remarkable story, which is centred largely against the backdrop of the ruling Stanley family and the impact of the English Civil War on the Island, is legendary and shows little sign of losing its fervour.

Remembered colloquially as Illiam Dhone (dark-haired William) his story is complex, and although many important details have survived, given the passage of time it’s inevitable that some information will be lost, and consequently the complete story may never be told.

But TNT Theatre, who frequently journey to the Island with a kaleidoscopic range of challenging drama, grasped the bare bones of this unique Manx story, and after much research developed this fascinating tale into a new historical drama.

The story centred on a time of major transition on the Isle of Man, with the audience riveted by TNT Theatre’s powerful interpretation of events. It was never intended that this should be an historical re-enactment, and although some of the events and attitudes of the main players were based upon speculation, it did open up new ideas and posed questions hitherto unconsidered.

Held in conjunction with the Manx Heritage Foundation, the life and times of one of the Island’s most controversial characters was acted out in the grounds of Milntown (William Christian’s birthplace and seat of power of the successful Christian family) in the north of the Island, and at Castle Rushen where he was subsequently tried and found guilty of treason.

Introduced by Charles Guard of the Manx Heritage Foundation (soon to be renamed Culture Vannin), the drama unfolded before an audience of leisurely diners who feasted upon the bulging contents of picnic hampers and quaffed glasses of fine wine as synchronicity slipped amongst them, with its penchant for surprise and captivation.

He recounted how the night before the opening of the play a painting of William Christian fell mysteriously from the wall at Milntown, and how a direct descendant of the central character, from the USA, happened per chance to arrive at the dress rehearsal on the previous day. Pre-ordained?  Or simple coincidence?

TNT Theatre perform with little in the way of props, or scenery, and use barely half a dozen actors, but their depiction of one of the most important events in Manx history was portrayed with vigour, passion and occasional moments of humour. They were unafraid to introduce other characters not usually associated with this poignant tale, chief amongst them the black dog of Hango Hill. Manx folklore abounds with tales of ghostly black dogs, who stalk various parts of the Island (both with and without a head) with one such beast reportedly haunting the aforesaid Hango Hill, near Castletown. But within the play itself this mysterious animal becomes an important conduit as William Christian relinquishes his hold on this world for the next, amidst the mixed emotions of those he left behind.

At the close of the play the unusual step was taken to allow the audience the decision as to whether William Christian should be delivered to heaven, or hell, for his actions, but after 350 years it was clear that the Manx nation is still divided on the outcome.

Valerie Caine

© January 2014 (inc. photos)

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