The rest of this quiet play, which takes place seamlessly over six decades, reverberates like a stone dropped in a mill pond. It is both appealing and unexpectedly complex as it explores what it means to belong somewhere, the ties of village life and the tug of the city and how life goes on through national events, changes of government, births and deaths.
Some of you may know Hartley’s work from his play Eyam (Globe, 2018), which now seems highly topical, and told the story of the Derbyshire village that during a plague outbreak in 1665 took the decision to quarantine itself to prevent the spread of the disease into the surrounding area.
Photos by Richard Stanton
Here I Belong is a very different play but one that also feels grounded in a particular community. That gives it added pleasure at this moment of time. It was filmed with a local audience in Blisland village hall in Cornwall in 2016.
The filming is rudimentary and initially this feels a mite too loud, a little too broad, but I’d definitely recommend staying with it because you will quickly be gripped by the story of Elsie, a former city dweller turned land girl who marries a local village boy and stays in Woodside village for 60 years. She’s an incomer who becomes a local.
The entire action takes place in the village hall beginning at the Queen’s coronation in 1953 (much excitement about the TV being lent for the occasion) and moving over a lifetime to Elsie’s 90th birthday. There are losses in many forms including deaths, children leaving for the city, the village shop closing and the school under threat because of a falling intake. But there are gains too in the form of community. While Hartley’s play is as warm as bread being toasted on an open fire it is never sentimental. You might describe it as an Aga saga but it is a very high quality one.
Elizabeth Freestone’s production is cleverly staged in and amongst the audience, and there is such a lovely, engaging performance from Beatrice Curnew who is moving as Elsie and convincingly ages over the play’s course from pregnant twenty-something to nonagenarian. There’s terrific work too from Nathalie Barclay who plays the succession of different characters who touch Elsie’s life with comic verve.
This is a great example of the superb but often hidden work that takes place on the rural touring circuits and the essential contribution that Pentabus makes to rural cultural life. Take the opportunity to enjoy its under-stated charms.
You can watch Here I Belong in full here.*
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