Celebrating World Theatre Day.

Following on from the Women Rediscovered project in January 2021 the North East Wales Archives has enlisted the help of three drama practitioners to help us take another look at the role that archives can play in the arts.

Bethan Marlow is a playwright who has written for theatre and television and is currently writing a feature film. Originally from North Wales, Bethan says that she is driven to write by people’s stories-their journeys, their experiences and their way of surviving in the world. We asked Bethan, as a playwright had she used archives to help create her work and she replied, “as research is an integral part of writing nearly all dramas, I use the archive quite often”. Bethan went on to explain how she had used the North East Wales Archives (Hawarden branch) to study police records when she was researching her community play ‘The Mold Riots’. “I enjoyed looking through the ‘log book’ or diary a lot! Loads of interesting things and day to day which was a great help to take me to that period in Mold”.

Illustrated London News 1869, image of Mold Riots. D/DM/122/10 NEWA Hawarden

Polly Wright is the Artistic Director of the Hearth Centre. She is a theatre director, occasional performer, facilitator, writer, lecturer, and researcher. When asked what her experience of local archives was, Polly explained that she had first contacted the North East Wales Archives (Ruthin branch) a few years ago after discovering some letters from Italian and German Prisoners of War written to her grandmother, Kathleen Hooson of Caerfallen in Ruthin. Polly was especially interested in one bunch of letters which were tied up in a pink ribbon, from an Italian man called Gualtiero Lenzi. Polly said that she deposited the letters at the archives in Ruthin and then applied to the Arts Council England for funds to write a play about the imagined story of Kathleen and Gualtiero, called ‘Friends of Enemies’. At the Ruthin office Polly consulted DD/DM/1682, papers including reports of inspections of POW camps, including Pool Park, Ruthin, dated 1947-1948 and set up meetings in the community to gather further research about her grandmother and the history of POW’s in the local area. To search for other records relating to POW’s please follow the link to the NEWA (Ruthin branch) subject index for War.

Prisoners of War at Caerfallen n.d. [c.1944] NEWA Ruthin

About 15 years ago Lowri Jones, a freelance actress and archives assistant based in Denbighshire was asked to write and perform a living history monologue based on the lives of the Ladies of Llangollen. “I consulted the DD/LL collection held at the North East Wales Archives (Ruthin branch) which includes correspondence and letters, household accounts and two portraits of the Ladies to get a sense of them and also to look for visual clues as to what type of costume to prepare. As part of my research I used the reference library of the Ruthin archive office and found useful secondary sources for example articles, pamphlets and books written about the Ladies and Llangollen and a publication of a collection of diary entries written by one of the Ladies”. Lowri has also used the archives to research a living history monologue based on the history of the Ruthin Munitions Factory during the Second World War and she consulted photographs taken at the time and first-hand accounts written by factory workers. To discover more about the local history records held by the North East Wales Archives please click on this link.

Ruthin Gaol Munitions factory workers n.d. [c. 1944]. PPD/90/397 NEWA Ruthin

Bethan has produced site specific and immersive theatre with communities across Wales and we took the opportunity to shift the focus away from local archives to ask what influences her creative decision making in terms of whose stories she tells on a national level? “To be honest, I look at Wales and the Welsh of today when looking for a creative story or production. Even when I was writing the Mold Riots, I tried to see what themes and situations from 1869 are similar today (tension around the Welsh language for example). When I made a production called “C’laen ta!” (Come on then) on Peblig council estate in Caernarfon for the National Theatre they used records from the elderly on the estate and used interviews with them discussing memories of when the estate was originally built”.

Unlike Bethan, Lowri explained that her living history monologues have mainly been performed to local audiences within Denbighshire and Flintshire and the neighbouring counties.  “I have created site specific character monologues for family audiences for the purpose of encouraging  awareness of and to promote the history of a specific site, occasionally combining stories influenced by local history and other themes, for example Cob and the Mystery of the Orb, written and produced by The Shed Theatre Company which was a promenade play commissioned by Loggerheads Country Park based on environmental issues and the Second World War Munitions worker monologue was initially created as part of a project which supported the school curriculum”.

We asked the question, how have audiences responded to learning about their Welsh heritage and Bethan replied that, “the response of the audience to the productions of a particular site, in particular those that have been co-created with the local community, always encourages many feelings of new pride in their community, memories of the community that was and surprise when learning something new about Wales and its heritage. This has happened many times to me in ‘C’laen-ta!’, ‘Blodyn’ (two National Theatre shows in Caernarfon, Talysarn and Blaenau Ffestiniog), ‘A Queer Christmas’ (with Mess-Up the Mess Theatre in Swansea) and the Mold Riots”.  Lowri says that she has seen first-hand the powerful affect that archives and performance can have on people especially when it offers the audience an opportunity to respond and share their own memories. The Munitions Worker talk has often encouraged a reminiscence style discussion for those members of the audience for whom the Second World War and its after effects was still within their living memory.

Polly and Lowri both agree that theatre is an excellent way of teaching people about their history. Lowri adds a further example of the work she has done for Bodelwyddan Castle Trust delivering a living history monologue based on a Victorian housekeeper called Mrs Humphreys. This script was written using information from estate records and the census and it was delivered to primary school children from Denbighshire, Flintshire and further afield into Cheshire, Liverpool and Manchester. Lowri believes that bringing history to life through performance does support the curriculum work that is done in the classroom as it reaches out to all types of learners by allowing the words to jump off the page. For further information on records relating to the Bodelwyddan Estate held at the North East Wales Archives (Hawarden office) please click on this link.

One Response to “Celebrating World Theatre Day.”

  1. Kevin Matthias Says:

    Archives : ‘all human life is here’. Endless possibilities. Who remembers ‘ Voices From The Past’ performed at Theatr Clwyd in 1996?

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