The ambitious community arts project that aims to tell the human stories connected with the Whiteball Tunnel has taken a further step – literally. This week a group of 20 local walkers led by local historians traced the route around the tunnel just outside Wellington and discovered the navvy camp that, for two years from 1842 to 1844, was home to over 1000 labourers recruited to dig 14 vertical shafts and the tunnel itself – all by hand.
The walk was one of the outcomes of a pop-up shop in the former Hard Times Cafe in South Street and run by Project Manager Elaine Faull, aiming to bring ‘The Wondrous Tales of Whiteball Tunnel’ to the attention of more people in the town. “We already have more than 80 people involved – aged between 8 and 80 – both front and backstage and 350 local children from all the local schools, but this is a way of attracting more interest in the project,” she said.
Workshops held in June and July have resulted in an extraordinary script, devised by Actiontrack’s Nick Brace, which manages to ingeniously weave together past and present in an effective and multidimensional drama. It includes the story of local resident Odette who was recruited by the War Office in the 1940’s to coordinate resistance work in Nazi-controlled S. France. The personal stories – of the navvies and their children, some of whom worked as ‘horse boys’ – have been brought to life, converting history into compellingly engaging – and credible – interwoven dramatic narratives. The whole performance is held together by ‘MC’, a music hall compere interacting directly with the audience.
Songs, music, filmed sections and projections are all integrated into what promises to be one of the most exciting creative events in the town in living memory. Film company Forkbeard Fantasy and Somerset arts organisation Take Art are involved in the project alongside Actiontrack.
Now that the script and songs have been assembled and given a first reading, rehearsals will begin in September. The performance will take place in St John’s Baptist Church from 5th to 8th November but in an unusual ‘traverse’ format. Elaine Faull explained: “We’ll be staging the event down the centre of the church with the audience on two sides as this allows for greater audience involvement.”
Anyone wishing to get involved – as performers, singers, musicians and volunteers – should pop into the Whiteball Tunnel shop, or contact Elaine Faull at email@example.com or phone 07724406105 or visit Actiontrack’s website www.actiontrack.org.uk.