‘The Story of the Stone’ may have been blown off the Blackdowns by Storm Brian but St John’s Church proved a worthy substitute setting for a wholly entertaining commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Wellington Monument.
Commissioned by the National Trust, Actiontrack Performance Company’s Nick Brace had invited local people to join him and his team in devising and performing the story which led to the building of Wellington’s iconic Monument – and the age range of those who had responded said much about the attraction of the venture. From the youngsters from Genesis Theatre Company to the town’s venerable citizens, the impression was of a team effort, irrespective of talent – although there was plenty in evidence – and experience.
The performance began with what is surely a first: the appearance of a horse in St John’s Church. Bearing Britannia who set the context of an all-powerful kingdom to a bullish John Bull (who reminded her of the service of humble people in the nation’s glory), the horse will not be forgotten!
Told in rhyming couplets with musical punctuation and songs, the ‘plot’ explored the way the idea of a monument was reached with Thomas Lee’s design for one which represented the three sides of a soldier’s bayonet winning the contest.
Skilfully disguised by humour, the issues of social inequality were addressed, as was the issue of funding with Nynehead Court landowner William Sanford leading the appeal for contributions from both the wealthy and local people. The final song reminded the audience of the commemorative function of the Monument, signifying to successive generations the ‘blood spilled on foreign land’ by soldiers.
Actiontrack’s Nick Brace and his team should be praised for the ingenious ways they found to tell the story, much of it historically accurate. The use of cartoon cut-outs with holes for heads, silhouettes and simple props made for both fun and easy transitions. Those in the audience – and the church was full – may have wondered why they were given a gold disc to hold as they arrived; they found that they, too, were involved in the action, their discs being gold coins to contribute to Monument funds.
Representatives of the National Trust were present as was local MP Rebecca Pow. In their addresses to the audience they spoke of plans to keep the issue of the Monument’s future on their agenda but, in 2017 as in 1817, the issue of money remains difficult to resolve.