Plays about rural life are still less common than explorations of urban experiences but Barney Norris is one playwright who has explored living in the country and Nell Leyshon is another. Leyshon’s latest is set in Somerset, close to the village where she was brought up, and tells of an encounter in 1903 between the elderly Louie Hooper who has been passed down over 300 songs from her mother. But this quiet rural life is shattered by the arrival of composer Cecil Sharp, down from London and determined to transcribe all of Hooper’s songs to keep the folk tradition alive. But who owns these songs, and is Sharp the right custodian of songs that sprang from the mud and the labour in the fields in all weathers?
1903, Somerset. Rooted in the land where she has lived her entire life, Louie Hooper’s mind overflows with its songs – more than 300 of them passed down from her mother. Cecil Sharp, a composer visiting from London, fears England’s folk songs will be lost forever and sets out on a mission to transcribe each and every one. He believes Louie’s music should speak not just for this place but for the whole of England. But whose England? Inspired by a true story, Nell Leyshon’s beautiful new play features live folk song. Brought up in a neighbouring village to Louie’s in Somerset, Nell Leyshon’s theatre credits include Comfort Me With Apples (nominated for an Olivier Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre’ and winner of the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright) and Glass Eels (both Hampstead), Don’t Look Now (Sheffield / Lyric Hammersmith) and Bedlam (Globe). Folk aired on Radio 3 in May 2021 as part of the BBC’s Light’s Up series, which turned the spotlight on plays whose staging had been delayed by the pandemic. Hampstead’s Artistic Director Roxana Silbert directs her second Downstairs production, following Deborah Bruce’s Raya. Other Hampstead productions include The Haystack. She is also directing the Pulitzer winner ‘night, Mother on the Main Stage this autumn. The cast features Ben Allen (Measure for Measure, Donmar), Sasha Frost (The Lightning Child, Shakepeare's Globe), Mariam Haque (Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre) and Simon Robson (The Schumann Plan, Hampstead Theatre).