Hefted - a very local play with a global environmental vision

Rehearsals between Multi Story and the Swimbridge community cast for North Devon theatre epic Hefted are now underway. Playwright David Lane went along to pass his script over at the first rehearsal, leaving the company to begin their unique exploration of a very local play with a global environmental vision.

‘It’s rare that you go to a first full company read-through of a script – especially with large-cast plays – and enter a room full of people who know each other, come from the same place and have immediate ownership over the rehearsal venue.

Most professionals will be slightly trepidatious, anxious to make a good first impression, scoping out who else is in the room and approaching things cautiously. It was wonderful therefore to turn up at Swimbridge Jubilee Hall last weekend and find the room bustling, busy, and full of laughter and excitement.

The sense of this being a community venture is so strong. I look around the room and see six young actors under the age of eighteen, shoulder-to-shoulder with the professionals Laura James and Ben Stretton, and next to them the adults from Swimbridge whom clearly already know the young people, and community producer Julie Whitton.

Bill Buffery from multi story – who is at the helm as director – holds the space firmly and marks this production as a totally new page in the story of Hefted.

Some people here were involved with the play’s development when it was just a few ideas, some have seen readings of scripts and scenes along the way, but Bill’s message is clear: forget all of that. This will be yours – ours – to invent and imagine around the words and bring to life in our own way.

He frames the play in poetic terms to get us thinking – it’s not a history play, but contains some history; it’s not a fairy-tale, but it contains some magic; it’s not a fantasy, but it contains the fantastical; its tones might be dark and savage in some places but are playful and full of lightness and comedy in others. In addition, we might be six hundred years away from some of the characters’ timeframes, but their experiences of love, life, death, belonging, separation, heartbreak and adventure can still mirror our own.

The read-through is undertaken with gusto, commitment and bravery. The potential in the room is clear, from the passionate young actors through to the gravitas of age and experience in the older ones, and the atmospheres of intensity, conflict and concentration they are beginning to create with one another.  

We talk afterwards of the vivid images in the text, the conjuring up of the sense of diverse landscapes in North Devon and the characters we love and are curious to know more about – curiosities that will be unpacked in rehearsal as this cast takes ownership of the words and the spaces around them.

Only a day later photographs come through of the ensemble at work: stories told in images not words, a collective exploring its identity in the story, a theatrical language starting to emerge even at this early stage. If you pass the Jubilee Hall on a weekday evening, be aware: something very special is beginning to take shape within those four walls…

David Lane, writer of Hefted

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