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Ignite Me

by on 29 September 2020

Unmasked Voices

Ignite Me

Ignite Me Workshop Theatre at The Theatre in the Park, Marble Hill, 27th September

Review by Celia Bard

Notwithstanding the greyness of the afternoon with the first signs of leaves turning golden brown, the Ignite Me Theatre enthusiastically presented its latest workshop against the backdrop of Marble Hill House, sadly neglected since the 1980s.  All that is now about to change for with the help of part of a £4 million grant from the Heritage and Community Fund, restoration is now underway.  Marble Hill is on its way to being revived, its story brought to life and investment in its long term future secured. 

The House, an elegant Palladian villa and gardens, was constructed by Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (1689-1767), perhaps best known as the mistress to the Prince of Wales, later George II.  The Countess was, however, much more than a mistress.  She was right at the centre of a dynamic circle of writers, poets and politicians amongst whom included Horace Walpole, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, a close neighbour residing at Pope’s Villa in Strawberry Hill.  It was Pope who designed the Villa gardens for the Countess.   Against this backdrop of the now scaffold-bedecked house, socially distanced groups gathered, with their deckchairs, under the grey skies with a distinct autumnal chill in the air, to watch a group of dedicated actors of the Ignite Me Theatre present their drama.   

Similar to the way in which Henrietta Howard sparked off discussion about the Arts, so the Ignite Me Workshop Theatre is acting as a vehicle for social change through drama and discussion recognising how important “it is for people to have their say and put their points across.  We too have a voice”, commented Gary, one of the participants.  The theatre’s actors and artists come from a diverse range of backgrounds, including disabled and homeless people.  Their current project, People’s Theatre for Marginalised Adults is supported by The Mayor of London’s Culture Seeds.  The company was set up by Bryony Jane Meteyard in 2017 and this is her third production.  Her drama work with them is experimental.  She works with actors from their own experiences and develops performances that aim to involve the audience in making connections and finding solutions.   

Hard as it is for non-marginalised adults to function in societies right across the world it is good to be reminded how much more difficult it must be for those who find themselves, not only having to cope with an impairment of some kind but now find themselves in a world where personal freedoms and rights are restricted because of a virus that has become pandemic.   The scenes acted out by the actors showed the way things really are for them such as having to cope with a cash machine not working; wearing a mask on a bus when the wearer suffers a panic attack; having to queue when going into a shop and find themselves facing an angry queue of people; asking directions whilst wearing a mask of a person with impaired hearing; refusing to sit next to a disabled person; wearing really scary masks.  Members of the audience were then asked to participate by being asked to suggest ways in which these situations could be improved for those experiencing them.  What could be done to help, to calm things down?  The same scenes were then repeated with the actors taking on-board audience suggestions.  All of the scenes were Covid related and how it impacts on people who may be mentally or physically challenged.

The groups of actors worked really well together.  They were enthusiastic and well-motivated, under the guiding hand of the Narrator, Bryony Meteyard, who linked together the different scenes with confidence.  She was totally at ease and interacted with the audience in a most engaging way.  The audience were receptive and not at all inhibited about coming forward and offering suggestions.  The scenes were interspersed by music provided by The Missing Cat duet consisting of vocal and guitar who entertained the audience with pop music of the 60s including My Girl and Waterloo Sunset.

The well named Ignite Me Workshop Theatre is certainly a group well worth following, their sense of fun and togetherness was infectious.  Also commendable were the actual performances.  Actors could be heard clearly, and characters were well defined.  Although the scenes, I suspect, evolved through a series improvisational exercises, the final result was sleek and professional, all relating to the overall theme of Covid. 

Celia Bard, September 2020

Photography by Charles Jervas and Penny Touchwood

From → Drama, Music

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