Hefted in Production: Connecting Community and Place

‘After the final night of Hefted, a man walked up to me to say he’d known by instinct he’d wanted to be a shepherd since he was a boy. He’d been one on Exmoor for twenty years after skipping most of school. After seeing the word ‘hefted’ in a parish notice for the play, he thought he’d come along to the play.

It was gratifying to hear his congratulations, as he reflected on what he’d seen on stage that night connecting with his own understanding of a deep relationship with a landscape. 

This and many other anecdotes, stories, memories and connections around place and home, leaving and staying, past and present emerged around Hefted; not just within audiences across the three performances, but also during the two months of rehearsals, between the performers and the huge army of production volunteers. 

A truly uplifting piece of community theatre! The ensemble format was perfect, the intergenerational cast exuded commitment and support for each other and what delightful and moving stories, beautifully acted, taking the audience memorably through centuries of North Devon history.

In just the same way the play was inspired by oral storytelling, in the staging of its own fictionalised histories and myth-making, it stimulated the telling of new tales and experiences. It offered a space for that which might otherwise not be voiced to take form, in the passing on of memories and experiences between generations.

It’s hard to encapsulate the atmosphere in Swimbridge Jubilee Hall during the final performance. A sold-out auditorium full of North Devonians and some from further afield (including myself!) supporting a North Devon cast and North Devon theatre company – but sharing stories that had the power to stretch far beyond the physical boundaries of geography, and the cultural boundaries of age.

A beautiful piece of theatre – intricately woven, lyrically powerful, and passionately told by such a strong company of all ages. It felt like watching a painting of North Devon come to life in snapshots through the ages.

I joined the party after two performances, which had seen the community cast boldly forge on through thunderstorm, tempest, power failure and blackout without batting an eyelid, their commitment and conviction as solid as seasoned professionals. 

The comments book at the community hall door was brimming with positive audience feedback – always welcome of course – but more significant than that was the tangible sense of a connected space. 

Spectators, performers, community members, even the location itself it seemed, all distinctly aware of what was being shared and the collective endeavour it took to get there. It felt to me, as a relative outsider, like a celebration and a gesture of pride and heel-digging – this is us, differences in age, heritage and outlook levelled by a common place. This is where we are, what we’ve endured, and what we’re capable of. This is how we will survive: through sharing our stories.

I just had to tell you it was amazing. I've never been to anything like that before, in fact I've never been to a play before but I thought it was wonderful.

This year the script of Hefted is open source: free for any amateur company to use and produce as their own. A fully professional production is also headed towards rehearsals for later in 2019 with Beaford, Carn to Cove and multi story. 

Finally, a digital audio adaptation funded by Arts Council England will be created by June this year. Recorded in collaboration with the Swimbridge cast, artistic director of Theatre Uncut Hannah Price, sound designer Adrienne Quartly, Exeter University’s Drama Department and Kaleider, it will be available to download online, and experience as part of the Celebrate Your Heritage weekends and The Burton at Bideford’s exhibition of Beaford Archive photography, which inspired the whole project from the outset. 

Hefted is primed to reach many more audience members in Devon, in other rural communities across the UK, and to general listeners worldwide. Its stories – and the untold ones they have yet to make space for – have an exciting future ahead of them.’

David Lane, writer of Hefted

Kelly Johnson