So what is a community play? Crosby explains:
It is a specific genre of Theatre pioneered by Ann Jellicoe in 1978 and developed over ten years by Ann and The Colway Theatre Trust she set up. Ann is no longer in Lyme Regis. The work of leading the trust has been taken over by Jon Oram who has moved it all to Kent. Its now called Claque Theatre.
Pete Wilson, Keith Hudson, Russ Smith and I were all involved in the first Ottery Community Theatre play of 1985 called The Ballad Of Tilley Hake which was written by Sheila Yeger and directed by Joan Mills. I was involved as assistant director and school liaison. The other three were acting.
A community play involves anyone who is interested from the local community where it is about to take place. The play focuses on one or more incidents from that community’s past. In our case it is a couple of lines from a history of East Budleigh that triggered the play. The process takes about 18 months from start to finish. Our cast numbers about 35+ local people ages ranging from 4 years old to older adults. A further characteristic of the genre is the staging. Ann was most particular about using the Promenade style of performance which involves using several stages (we use four) and asking the Audience to move about the hall, sharing the acting spaces, as the action progresses. Most will be standing although it is OK to sit on the edge of stages not being used - as long as audience move out the way when it is required. There will also be 12 seats specifically for the elderly, frail and disabled.
What appeals to you about this style of production?
The close contact with the audience and their involvement in the events of the community. I love the immediacy and close proximity of audience in street theatre and am a member of the Sidmouth Traditional Mummers who are among many supporting this venture. We also have members of The Sidmouth Steppers involved. Henry Piper (the Mummers’ Gaffer) and his wife Rosie are directing the Music. The Steppers have created a dance for the play. I also like having the audience involved much as they would have been in the travelling players’ days of Elizabethan (or earlier) England.
How long does the play run?
About one hour twenty minutes. I also would appeal to the audience to join in the song choruses which are printed in the back of the programme ( Tipperary, Pack up your Troubles) and if possible, wear a bit of approximate Edwardian Costume ( hence our picture). That way the community comes alive!
What does the play explore?
War and the terrible sense of pain, the futility and misery of combat conditions as well as the impact of loss and change on a small village community. We hear stories culled from actual records of conversations with ordinary people who lived through WW1 and WW2. My grandfather was badly shot up in the Battle of The Somme. I have always wanted to pay tribute to him and any soldier, airman, sailor involved in conflict where death is a way of life. We focus on the heroic stoicism of the men and women who suffer as a result of conflict both home and abroad. Though events in the play take place in World War One, at the end of the play we broaden our view and bring the tribute into the present.
Well, it’s about two young people who some of the conventions of the time say cannot be together.
It’s about the young men of a Devon Village going off to war and, like so many others before and since, not returning.
It’s about what those left behind did to keep life going.
It’s in memory of those ‘lions led by donkeys’ who died for a few yards of Flanders mud.