Sailing and spinning Dorset stories

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Community playwright Stephanie Dale has a busy year ahead with two new productions exploring aspects of Dorset’s history

DORSET people have been travelling across the Atlantic for centuries – hoping to make a new life, practise their faith without persecution or seek employment away from a depressed and unhappy country. The strongest connection between our county and the “New World” is with Newfoundland, and this forms the basis of a new community play which will be staged in Poole this summer.
The play, Salt, has been written by Stephanie Dale, who has also written Spinning the Moon, the record-breaking seventh Dorchester community play, which is being staged at Thomas Hardye School theatre from 4th to 15th April.

Poole’s first community play
History will be made in more ways than one when Poole’s Lighthouse arts centre hosts Salt – not just a play that tells a key feature of Dorset’s social history, it will also be the town’s first community play, covering more than 300 years of our relationship with Newfoundland.
Involving more than 100 local people, Salt will be staged from 27th to 30th July – there will be parts for actors, singers, musicians and dancers, as well as non-speaking background roles and volunteers needed to bring the show to life. Produced by Lighthouse and created by Dorset-based professional theatre company Angel Exit, Salt is set between 1681 and the present day. It shines a light on the Newfoundland trade that was at its height from the mid-17th century until the mid-19th century and saw sailors from Poole and the rest of Dorset bring salt cod from Newfoundland to the ports of Spain, Portugal and Italy, and return with salt, olive oil and wine. By the end of the 17th century many Dorset families had settled in Newfoundland.

Belonging and leaving
The play focuses on the first brave women who made the treacherous voyage to settle in a hostile land.
The themes of what it means to belong and what it means to leave your homeland are woven into a story with contemporary characters that overlaps with the historical narrative.
As well as actors and back-stage crew, there are many other roles for volunteers, say co-directors Lynne Forbes and Tamsin Fessey from Angel Exit: ‘We’ll need help with making costumes, sourcing props and building sets as well as everything from dressing, make up, hair and wardrobe, to driving, stewarding, or baking cakes for rehearsals – if you’ve got a skill there’ll be a place for it!’
Musical director – and Dorset folksong expert – Tim Laycock is recruiting a choir to learn some old Newfoundland songs and also contribute to making up a new one.
Spinning the Moon
Tim is also involved with Spinning the Moon, which has a lot of music. It will be in safe hands with Tim, an outstanding Dorset folk singer, historian, actor and musician. As the play begins, Lord Trenchard returns home to find that his lands have been mismanaged by his steward and the family faces ruin. Fortunes rise and fall with the civil war bringing chaos to the local community. The characters include the family and their servants, some less than brotherly monks from Abbotsbury and a group of cunning women.
It’s been a rollercoaster for the company and the writer. Stephanie Dale says: ‘When we were shut down by the first lockdown we were all devastated and didn’t dare hope we would ever get the play to the stage. Seeing it come together as rehearsals progress is the best feeling in the world.’
To find out more about Salt, and how you can get involved,, email communityplay@lighthousepoole.co.uk or call Community Play Co-ordinator, Holly, on 01202 781338.

by Fanny Charles

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