From Somerset with love
2020 has been an annus horribilis for British theatre. However in the face of the threat of closure or redundancies for buildings up and down the land and questions over the place artists have in the UK’s arts ecology, a small-scale theatre company has been quietly getting on with making work happen.
Over the last few months, Wassail Theatre Company has been supporting freelance theatre professionals in Somerset to continue working through a series of commissions and the production of two new shows, one of which is among the first pieces of British theatre to be touring since the Government announced outdoor performances can resume.
Heartbeat is a 15 minute show that is performed on people’s doorsteps, in their driveway or their back garden. Wassail has been working with Reveal Productions to explore the values at the heart of our communities. Written & performed by Nick White, directed by Joanna Procter and designed by Julie Read, Heartbeat has been touring to audiences in the neighbouring Somerset villages of East and West Coker, as well as Ilchester, Yeovil, Bower Hinton and Kingsbury Episcopi.
“What a unique shared experience with family and neighbours that adds to the bonds that entwine our community. It felt quite poignant, especially Shirley over the garden wall, who seemed part of it all but somehow isolated and clearly missing important things in her life.” Audience
As well as Heartbeat, Wassail is also producing a new show for digital audiences.
Directed by Jesse Briton, Radio Zummerzet pays homage to the robust way rural communities have responded to the Covid-19 crisis. Devised by the cast, Radio Zummerzet will bring authentic voices and stories to the airways and will be broadcast by Somerset’s community radio stations.
With funding from Arts Council England, South Somerset District Council and the Garfield Weston Foundation Wassail has created Somerset Emergency Theatre, a series of commissions enabling artists in Somerset to reflect and connect their local community during these critical times.
Connecting Communities is supporting 21 artists to make bespoke and original work that brings people together through culture across Somerset and, in the case of Sheba Soul Ensemble, internationally.
Alternative Endings has been conceived by Richard Crowe and is bringing ten theatre makers together to collaborate on a new play starting with news from Wuhan of the first death from C19 in January 2020, following the impact of the virus on the culture and consciousness of Somerset. Alternative Endings will have an online rehearsed reading, directed by Emma Bettridge, in October.
This Community is supporting professionals at the beginning of their careers to consider how to engage with local people as a stimulus for their creative process.
Never one to rest, Wassail is supporting Tor Theatre tour Rime of the Ancient Mariner to pub beer gardens as well as planning for different projects to inspire audiences across Somerset in 2021.
"This has a challenging time for the arts nationally, but we're taking a positive approach in Somerset with local and hyper-local work designed to nurturing and cultivating culture on our doorsteps. We are finding that it is important now more than ever to reach out to our immediate community, to listen to them, and to represent them." Nick White, Artistic Director