There simply wasn’t enough time to view every drama piece which came out online in the wake of the first lockdown and I am still playing catch-up. However, I have been trying to rectify that lately before another wave (by which I mean online theatre rather than Covid) appears. Released last summer in a collaboration from rural theatre group Pentabus and new writing promoters Paines Plough, Come To Where I Am: Rural saw eight dramatists being commissioned to produce a short play about their perceptions of life in a rural location. The eight playlets are all solo pieces and they have been gathered together and released as two films which are still available.
What we see are performances by the writers themselves and, as one of them acknowledges, they are clearly not all actors. However, giving us their own material makes for an authentic voice experience and it is made clear that these are “readings” rather than fully fledged performances. The writer/actors and, as they recorded themselves, film makers come from around the UK and reflect on the locations where they live such as Ludlow, Wiltshire, Cornwall; one of them owns up to living in London but reflects back on time spent in Bridgnorth. What comes across strongly is that they are all tied to these geographical roots and that place has an effect on their writing. However, an even greater influence is exerted by family and family ties. Maybe it was because the pandemic was reminding them of the human contacts they were missing when they were writing these pieces but relationships with mothers (particularly mothers), fathers, siblings and offspring are regularly highlighted, and the loss of those human interactions are mourned. It is a situation with which we can all currently empathise.
The sequence begins with Crop Circles by Tash Marshall in which she reflects on life with her father before he passed away. This is followed by Kat Wood’s Flat where she is trying to ensure her mother has what she needs to survive lockdown only to be stymied by bike trouble. Perhaps the most affecting story is that of Yasmin Wilde in Barrel Rock where it is the loss of a sixteen year old son which hits hard. Tom Wenthworth’s contribution, No Place, nicely blindsides the viewer as he seems to be talking about a person when it is actually a place; however, as the two are inextricably linked in his mind, it more or less comes to the same thing.
Some of the pieces take us outside physically as in the second film opener, Walking With Mum. This centres on how the writer Olivia Preye misses her departed mother even as she is bringing up her own baby and going for long walks in the countryside in order to pay homage to family ties. The appropriately titled Roots by Jacob Hodgkinson uses photographs of a family orchard to stir memories and emotions. However, some are resolutely about life outside while being performed indoors. Little John Nee’s 2 Km From Killaloonty takes place in his garage which has been converted into a small black box space for the duration of the pandemic. Callum Beardmore in Youth’s Folly sits indoors and tells of the hunger pangs of a group of young men on a night out who walk four miles to get a takeaway. Surprisingly (although even as I write that, I’m not sure why it should be) Beardmore turns out to be a bit of a poet.
Although these eight short plays are disparate in content, they are united by a tone of wistful regret for missed opportunities. They are a representative sample of the much larger Come To Where I Am project which Paines Plough has been running for some time (details here). I was intrigued to learn that for those without online access they are running a “caller service” whereby a request can be made to have something read to you over the telephone. This collaboration with Pentabus has proved fruitful and helped to shine a light on a rural company who have won many plaudits. They put up quite a few other longer pieces in #lockdown1; unfortunately, I missed these but am keeping an eye out in case they are repeated. Meanwhile these two films give a flavour of what the two companies are all about and provide bite sized dramas which together make a substantial repast.
Come To Where I Am: Rural (both parts) are available on Pentabus Theatre’s website – click here
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