Newsflash: An edition of BBC Radio 4's 'Open Country' will be aired at 6.07am on December 26th in which presenter Helen Mark visits the Tale River valley and interviews people about TVCT and its 'Foresight' and 'They Dream of Home' productions. Available subsequently on iPlayer.
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Review: The Living at Hurford. “I thought TVCT surpassed itself in this production. Easily the most thoughtful, stimulating, touching and enjoyable play I have seen for a long time... on a par with War Horse which I saw in London.” and “Incredible. This village theatre had much more impact and quality than some West End plays I’ve seen. It was an honour to be in the audience for such a precious performance.”
They Dream of Home
Click here to access the evaluation form for They Dream of Home
Young actors shine
Tale Valley Community Theatre’s performance of ‘They Dream of Home’ which was performed around the village of Payhembury on the 19th and 20th of September relied heavily on young actors and, unusually in a cast of varied ages, three youngsters carried the lead roles. Catherine Davies who attends Uffculme School, played Gwen, a village girl who began to show affection for Bertie, a village youth played by Caius Nicholas who is at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary.
Audience members lauded his acting and his portrayal of Bertie was described as ‘exceptional’ and ‘outstanding’. The third young cast member to receive plaudits was Mark Rose, who played Tom, a fellow recruit. Mark is taking a gap year before going to drama school. Both of the male roles reflected real young men who were killed in WW1 and whose names are on the Payhembury memorial. After reading the script, relatives of both gave their permission for the use of their relatives’ names in the play.
Thankfully, as this was an outdoor, promenade production with scenes happening at various village locations, the weather was fine and audience members were able to watch the scenes at close quarters. Thanks to the marvellous and much-appreciated cooperation of Payhembury residents and pub-goers, the centre of the village was left free of cars during performances and, with the church and its rows of cottages around it, the Green looked somewhat like it did in 1914.
The battlefield scene and Christmas Truce were staged on the School playing field. The challenge was ‘how do you create the awfulness of trench warfare without damaging the field’s surface’. By a clever use of palettes, camouflage netting and sandbags Richard Pulman, Tony Treen and others constructed an excellent representation of ‘the front’. With the stylised battle sound effects, created by Duncan Chave and carried on very powerful sound equipment and with clever lighting, the battle was realistically created in the dusk. In addition to filling the role of Assistant Director, Martin Paine also operated the complicated sound system in this scene.
The final scene at the memorial brought tears to many audience members’ eyes. After touching the engraved name of ‘Albert Willis’ – her ‘Bertie’, Gwen, read a message Bertie had written on the back of his photograph before she sang to his image ‘If you were the Only Boy in the World’. The power of unfulfilled love brought Bertie back and they sang the latter part of this song together.
A fifteen-strong crowd in costume of the era accompanied the action. They sang many of the verses of the songs whilst the audience joined in the choruses. They represented the Payhembury residents who stayed at home whilst those who initially volunteered – and later those conscripted – joined up and crossed the channel to engage in the war.
Threaded throughout the performance, the fifteen-piece band was a wonderful accompaniment, both to the scenes where actors sang solos and during the audience walks which took them from one scene to another. It was directed by Andy Hague who also did all of the arrangements for the fifteen instrumentalists and audience members sang lustily and well, led by a ‘crowd’ of actors who represented the general Payhembury population of that time. The song words were shown in large font in a clever, fold-out ticket cum programme (now named a ‘pricket’) designed by Tim Woolgar.
Ali Owen stage managed this complex production and Richard Tift organised stewards who regulated the traffic when audience and actors were moving on village roads. Gill Tift handled costumes expertly, ensuring very realistic army uniforms and rifles were worn by the soldiers – British and German.
Because TVCT lays emphasis on maximum community involvement, there are too many people to mention all participants – but see cast list which also includes the names of the production team. This was a great communal effort with the direct involvement of 65 people whose ages ranged between 12 and 75. The company was privileged to include serving marine Steven Leonard who played the Drill Sergeant who whipped the raw recruits into shape.
Written and directed by John Somers, the audience feedback on the performances is excellent. This has been obtained through evaluation forms issued on the night and an online from the company’s website.