On the recommendation of playwright Steph Dale, we went to see the Hartfield Community Play Parallel Lives last night. The play is written and directed by Claque Theatre’s Jon Oram – a man with years of experience in making community theatre.
The venue (and set) was the village church. The plot wove together stories from the village’s past. Each of the characters was based on a real person (some of them famous: A. A. Milne, W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound had walk-on roles, Christopher Fry had a major role and local luminaries the Sackvilles, De La Warrs, Brasseys and Lady Dorothy Wellesley featured as well). There were 90 performers listed.
I like community theatre. One of my first writing credits was a scriptwriter on the Alvechurch Community Play The Odd Boy. I’ve acted in a few as well. The form requires a long term commitment, flexibility, a genius for logistics, usually an ability to work on a limited budget and a great deal of heart. The results are often theatrically exciting, satisfying and transformative for those taking part. It’s a rare opportunity for a writer to work with a large cast in a non-theatrical setting – usually a promenade performance.
Parallel Lives was a great night out. It started a little nervously but gradually, over two and a half hours, built and built. It took its time to bring its characters to life and interweave their stories across social barriers and across time. As darkness closed in the church became a magical space: horses and carts rode through, we met Saint Cuthman, I saw a pig on a lead and they built a church. Death was in the room but we affirmed life. Pat and I even got involved in a barn dance.
At the end the stories melded beautifully. The drama was thoughtful, moving and satisfying. But that was not all. The event itself was deeply dramatic. The performance (and in a promenade the audience performs as well) changed the people, changed the space. The plays I like activate people, change people. Parallel Lives did that.