Thursday, May 3, 2012
Imagine watching a wounded Cornish Archer from the 1549 Battle of Fenny Bridges as he digs a musket ball from his thigh.
Witnessing Master Peter, priest of Payhembury in 1349 as, on his deathbed during the Black Death he hands his vestments to his successor, Master Mark (pictured), who himself succumbs to the disease weeks later. These were just two of the scenes contained in Tale Valley Community Theatre’s site specific theatre production recently staged at Leyhill, an ancient property in Payhembury Parish.
Research into Leyhill’s history had started two years before with archive searches in the Devon and Somerset Records Offices proving particularly fruitful.
Documents spanning the period back to the 15th Century were consulted and seven scenes were written using this and other material as inspiration.
The scenes, spanning the period from 1349 to April 2012 took place in different rooms of the house, in outbuildings and in the Leyhill cobbled yard. Audience groups watched wives from 1916 as they bolstered their resolve through knitting items for their men at the front, enacted in the huge Leyhill kitchen; a motley group of men and boys mustered in the yard in 1588 to resist the expected Spanish invasion, and a pair of minor local poets of 1800 in the magnificent Leyhill drawing room, duped into thinking that Samuel Taylor Coleridge would be taking the Leyhill tenancy from the owner, Francis Drewe, of Broadhembury.
A scene enacted in Leyhill’s old kitchen most closely followed research evidence, employing the text of actual letters written in 1608 by the son of Margaret and John Willoughby whilst he was studying at Oxford University.
A scene set on the day of performance was enacted in the Leyhill workshops in which in reality, furniture and fittings are made for international clients. Thus the Leyhill story was brought up to date.
Audience groups 16-strong were led around the scenes by guides who added additional historical information which provided a deeper context for the stories. Audience members had been prepared for the experience by reading a cleverly designed programme, sold as a ticket, which gave essential information on each scene. his was designed by local artist and gallery owner Tim Woolgar.
Sophisticated lighting was installed by Paul Johnson and the live, original music woven into many of the scenes was directed by Charles West.
Children, directed by Colette Hudson, provided three scenes with songs and rhymes from childhoods past. The huge logistics of performing theatre in such an unusual venue were overseen by Richard Tift.
Costumes were organised by Penny Wilkinson and Gill Tift and props by Ali Owen and Keith Vaughan.
Audience responses were enthusiastic with people joining in the choruses of the finale song which accompanied tableaus of each scene staged in front of the impressive front elevation of the house.
Audience numbers were restricted to 112 on each of the four nights and tickets quickly sold out.
Comments made by audience members include: “The 1916 ‘Waiting’ is the scene I cannot get out of my mind. I have no idea who the actors were - but they weren’t! To me -and I hope everyone else - they were the real live people just telling their story. And the singing - I have never heard such a wonderful harmony to that song.”
Another declared that she “was deeply impressed with the enterprise, the writing and the conceiving of the very elaborate and deeply interesting episodes.”
A video of the production shot and edited by Ben Vallack will be available and photos by Andy Cowan are also available.
Tale Valley Community Theatre has earned a reputation for mounting original, high quality theatre in non-theatre spaces. New projects are in preparation and a series of skills workshops will start in the autumn as a way of generating and supporting further original work.
Artistic director John Somers is backed by an enthusiastic and skilled committee and contact can be made through the website at tvctheatre.org or by direct contact with John at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01884 277390.