Tackling some pretty massive challenges in a very tight space of time appears to be a habit of ours! Shirley may just have been our most ambitious project yet.
Shirley – the first ever performance adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel – has been in the company’s repertoire since we presented a very successful reading of it at the Morley Arts Festival last year – but this time was different. We’d been invited by Carol Nelson of Farfield Mill in the picturesque village of Sedbergh, Cumbria, to bring it to the wonderful industrial-base-turned-arts centre in the form of a promenade. The action would be woven throughout the building; around looms, underneath the building itself in the turbine room and even spread along the walkways leading up to the entrance – so, over an intense few months, the original piece was adapted to fit the new formula and the actors, director and stage manager set to work, creating a whole new show! The themes connected the tribulations of the “Luddites”, and their employers during the industrial revolution, with the general populace of the UK today.
In the piece, struggling to compete in the market with all trade frozen by the Napoleonic war, half-Belgian Robert Moore sets about automating his mill in readiness. Already dogged by others’ xenophobia and suspicion, his swift replacement of trained millworkers with modern machinery is quickly making him the most hated man in Stillborough. Even the loving efforts of his sister’s pupil, Caroline, and his unusual new landlady, Shirley, may fail to rescue him from assassination – as his machinery is vandalised and strange men stalk him in the shadows.
Tapping into the history of Farfield really made the place come alive for us. Over just two days, we enjoyed performing the piece five times to lovely audiences, and received great feedback. Audience comments included:
“It was very professional and authentic. The cast captured the sense of the time and portrayed it beautifully.”
“Acting and entire performance wonderful. Felt myself transported back in time.”
“It was original, deftly adapted, excellent use of space and actors’ adaptability to character. Altogether a surprising, engaging production.”
“Very moving. It was superb in every respect.”
We want to express our hearty thanks to all who attended and supported us, as well as the officials at the Yorkshire Dales Sustainable Development Fund and the Sedbergh & District Charitable Incorporated Organisation Community Fund for their generosity, and the staff, board and volunteers of Farfield Mill for their wonderful help. Big plans are afoot for Shirley, so watch this space! You can also follow us on Facebook via www.facebook.com/DangerousToKnow or on Twitter via @DTKManc.