The Whiteball Tunnel community theatre project is now fully on track. Actiontrack – the organisers – begin a series of workshops for performers, musicians and volunteers of all ages who would like to find out more about the project at Wellington Arts Centre on 29th April, 6th, 13th and 20th May from 6.30 – 8.30pm.
The official launch of the Whiteball Tunnel Community Arts Project at the Beambridge Inn last week marked an important step in the development of what promises to be an extraordinary event. Representatives from schools and arts’ organisations, historians, rail enthusiasts, local politicians, residents and other interested individuals and groups from both Wellington and nearby and from the Tiverton end of the tunnel are now involved.
The ambitious project, scheduled for a week of performances in November, aims to bring to life the history of the Whiteball Tunnel in time to mark the 110th anniversary of a world land speed record set by the GWR locomotive City of Truro on the line in 1904. It will focus on 3 specific aspects of the story:
– the building of the tunnel in the 1840s – its construction as one of the longest railway tunnels built, particularly in sandstone;
– the community of 1000 ‘navvies’ and migrant workers, exploring how they lived and how they interacted with the local communities. It will also investigate what it feels like to be included or excluded in a community, summarised by Actiontrack’s Nick Brace at the launch as “people going to work away from home;”
– the story of Odette Hallowes, a World War Two heroine who took part in Special Operations and was awarded the George Cross. Odette lived above the Whiteball Tunnel at the outbreak of war and returned to the area after the war in order to recuperate from SS torture. The project will focus on personal reserves and resilience – how we cope in times of challenge.
Former Head of Court Fields School, Elaine Faull, is acting as project-manager. Ms Faull stepped down as Head of Court Fields at the end of the school year in 2013 to pursue her life-long interest in drama at the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol. She has now begun a Master’s degree in Theatre Practice at Exeter University. “My specialism is in Applied Theatre so community involvement in the Whiteball Tunnel project fits perfectly with both my dissertation and my personal passion,” she explained.
Actiontrack has secured funding from The Arts Council to supplement support from local organisations. Take Art, the pioneering arts’ charity that serves towns, villages and rural communities in Somerset, and Forkbeard Fantasy, the multi-media theatre, film and animation organisation based at Hockworthy, are working alongside Actiontrack to create both a spectacular event and a “digital and actual legacy”.This will take the form of brick markers on the footpath surrounding the tunnel, each of which will have a QR code which will tell the story of the project. The markers will be made of 1000 bricks representing the navvies employed to build the tunnel.
Schools’ workshops at Wellesley Park, Langford Budville, Beech Grove, St Johns, Oake, Bradford and Nynehead, Rockwell Green, and West Buckland have already taken place; in the performances children will enact parts of the story, recreate Victorian playground games and form a children’s choir.
Project leader, Nick Brace, said, “The schools workshops have so far been primary school-based. Each one has covered one of two aspects of the Whiteball stories: the life of Odette Hallowes or life in the navvy camp – what it may have been like for children left to their own devices, and how they may have created games and songs as a reaction to the life they led. The sessions have been really creative and helpful – with intelligent and playful responses to the ideas and stories – just what we’re after! We (Actiontrack and Forkbeard) are now working with secondary schools.”
Those at the launch were given an early taste of the Whiteball Song and saw some of the visual and auditory effects Forkbeard intend to incorporate into the project.
More information about the development of the project is anticipated via parish and school newsletters alongside Actiontrack’s plans for “a creative presence at events such as fairs, flower shows and at the Wellington Carnival in October.”
Report & Photos: Gill Paltridge