It’s show week everybody! But not as we know it.
When the world became teeny tiny, apart from school closing and theatre cancelling and all the other things that get me out of the house, I was in the middle of a history and drama project with some Year 7 students from Chesterton Community College.
Let me take you back…
Ten years ago, for the 65th VE Day anniversary, The Heritage Lottery Fund kindly gave us some money to research, produce and write a play with some Year 9 students. It was (and is) called Coming Home and was all about the aftermath of the war for people who had lived through the horrific six years.
Men who came home fundamentally changed for ever, often to children who didn’t recognise them.
Women whose men did not come home.
Girls who had worked in factories and on the land, tasting independence, being expected to give up their jobs to the returning soldiers and get back in the kitchen…
You get the drift. Basically, what happened after the VE Day hangovers.
Fast forward and we (that’s the Chesterton teacher I worked with back then – Donna) over a casual coffee, did that thing; you know that thing we do in theatre circles? That ‘what if’ thing.
I have to say she is a genius at making things happen and she made it happen.
The plan was re-do the play, have a street party for older people in the community, develop a VE Day countdown app for the whole school etc. etc.
She’s good. They gave us the money to do it again.
And (as I used to write in all my stories when I was a child) THEN IT [the lockdown] HAPPENED.
Before the lockdown, we had auditioned and had a cast of thirteen raring to go. Will and I had given Mike Levy’s original script a bit of an update, school staff were on board to support the project, Easter holiday was set aside for intense rehearsal period.
Suddenly none of our plans were possible. So, what did we do?
We cracked on and made a radio play of course! Sophie did another rewrite to make the stories into stand-alone monologues, Will discovered that he can do audio editing – and is pretty good at it, Geoff played some tunes so we had a period piano underscore, Donna schmoozed the school chef into making the street party into a delivered afternoon tea for the people who would have been our guests and we started collecting VE Day memories for the school website. And quite a lot more.
Rehearsals were interesting! We Zoomed – so tiny pictures in 16 or so homes. Occasionally an actor, being just 11 or 12, would forget and wander off and give us an accidental tour of their house on a smartphone. Or disappear and come back with a bag of Monster Munch. Or send the whole group a message saying that they were just popping to the toilet. Or a younger sibling, cat, parent would enter stage left for an unexpected, but hilarious, cameo.
But they did it! They practised, they took notes and they recorded themselves and sent it to Will who did magical things with some software I just don’t understand.
And now? Well, we are being serialised on the BBC don’t you know, and the whole show is on another station (Camb 105) at 2pm on VE Day itself – kind of a warm-up act for Winnie.
Just in case you fancy a listen – it’s about an hour.
Actually, it’s really charming. Young actors who have understood their characters, rehearsed well and done their best to honour a piece of history that is slipping into the mists of time but should never be forgotten.