Last week I discovered and blogged about the Nick Hern Books playgroup, this week I wanted to shine a little light on the work of Pentabus. They may be just one of the many theatre companies at the moment generously serving up streamings of previous work to keep us all entertained (and keep their organisations going through fundraising) but their offering is unlike any other UK theatre company. Pentabus, based in Shropshire, tour new plays about contemporary rural life to village spaces; halls, community centres, fields, festivals, theatres and anywhere they can make an impact. They claim to have actually been the first company in the UK to live stream from a village hall and they have adapted to streaming from their website relatively rapidly.
If like me, you are based in a city it is a rare glimpse into theatre in another type of space. It is true that no live stream it is ever the same as being there and you won’t be able to share in the refreshments, take part in a raffle or just revel in the community spirit but it is, as I said, a rare glimpse and an inviting one.
Their latest work, co-commissioned by Creative Arts East (A rural arts scheme based in Norwich) toured the South East and South West of the UK in Oct-Nov 2019 and was released to stream last week. The Tale of Little Bevan combines theatre with original folk-music to give us a warm welcome to the (fictional) village of Little Bevan and it’s array of interesting characters, both young and very, very old. This recording was made in Halstock Village Hall in Dorset.
“Since villages have sprung into existence they have had secrets”
Since villages have sprung into existence they have had secrets, and the village of Little Bevan is no exception. We follow three outcasts; lonely ‘nearly’ published historian and Indiana Jones wannabe Tony is on a quest, the only teenager in the village Mikey has questions he needs to ride into the night to answer and Gill, ostracised self-assigned village ‘do-good-er’ feels she’s frankly done enough – and has hatched a plot to let everyone know about it. As the harvest moon rises, their paths comes to a head and the moonlight shines a revealing beam on truths not everyone wanted uncovered. It might seem hard to remember a time when village gossip was commonplace, but if you’ve been missing it, this little play will remind you that when everyone knows everyone, hear’ say can come at a high cost.
A vital element of a quality rural touring production is a small, hardworking cast, and they are a multitalented one to boot. It takes just three actors to bring the whole village roaring to life and they are naturally, also wielding a double bass, guitar and ukelele through which all the songs and a number of the sound effects are also brought to life. It’s a winning combination, the singing of the noticeboard announcements is a real highlight.
“don’t even mention Air BnB”
Robert Alen Evans writing hilariously captures the culture clash of the village’s identity, old and new, juxtaposing references to Bake Off and “don’t even mention Air BnB” with the town’s historical significance, eccentric traditions and beloved 9th century Saint. It’s hard to know throughout whether you would like to join in with their jolly community festivals (you must surely try the punch!) or run headlong the other way into the mysterious, slightly magical woods that I personally like to imagine all little English villages have a clump of.
The lighting deserves a special mention, as the effects created on the simple wooden beam set are truly mesmerising, something you might not expect on this scale. The suspense surrounding a silhouetted feathered headdress is palpable, even from the comfortable watching position of the other side of a screen.
Whether you’re locked down in a dwelling which is urban or rural, it’s a welcome little slice of escapism from self-isolated life – or it could serve as a reminder of why you would rather stay well away from your neighbours, safely indoors!
‘The Tale of Little Bevan’ and other Pentabus productions can be found here until the end of lockdown, and possibly beyond. Give them a watch and please give what you can.