'Unbind the Wing' at Bodnant Garden: Pigtown Theatre
In 2018, the centenary of votes for women, we commissioned Pigtown Theatre to help us bring Bodnant Garden's own unique suffrage story to life. Here, Vickie Fleming, the North Wales company's Artistic Director, looks back at the challenges and rewards of the project, from the community banner making to the live theatre launch day.
"Putting together a performance project is like constructing a jigsaw only there’s no finished picture to guide you. In the end it comes down to instinct, creative thinking and listening really carefully to what the client wants then bravely stepping over the edge and trusting that it will work.
For us working with the staff at Bodnant Garden has been a key element to the success of our work. They took risks, said yes when no would have been easier and allowed their initial idea to grow and blossom in ways that couldn’t have been imagined at the beginning of the process. It’s also important to find good people to work with. Between us Simon and I have a large number of artists to call on with a wealth of talent here in North Wales who can add their own twist to the tale. We love that. Collaboration turns a good idea into an amazing reality.
Central to this for ‘Unbind the Wing’ was getting the right script writer; ideally female with a strong interest in women’s issues. Step forward Sam O’Rourke, a fantastic writer with a CV bursting with women focused work. She was able to take Laura’s letters, look at the facts of the time and weave together our idea of echoing women’s struggle through 100 years of protest. She ‘got’ that this wasn’t going to be a middle of the road piece about a lady from history set in a vacuum; rather a shout of protest across the 100 years since women fought for the right to vote.
This was the brief and from that our characters were created. Modern day Laura lead the way, an imagining of what she might be like were she alive today. We travelled back in time via 1980’s Greenham Common protester Nat, 1960’s Anwen struggling for female emancipation and Kitty in 1911 fighting for the vote. Alongside these main characters was a community cast who were wonderful in their enthusiasm and commitment. Rehearsing in Bodnant on a wet Saturday afternoon a week before the performance was a true test of people’s commitment!
While all this was taking place bubbling away in the background was the community banner making project to produce the stunning banners which formed the protest element of the performance. We didn’t want to replicate the style of 100 years ago we wanted something modern, bold and eye catching that would be relevant to todays protesters. We wanted people to have their voice heard about issues they were passionate about and reflect that diversity of voice. With Alana Tyson, our artist, we were able to realise that vision. It was amazing to see the different groups come together and make wonderful, witty, colourful statements of protest.
And finally, to the day of theatre itself. There were many elements of this performance which simply couldn’t be rehearsed together beforehand; so many pieces of the jigsaw that we needed to fit together in the moment, trusting instinct and creative thinking to time everything just right so that the audience would see a seamless story, a flow of coherent ideas which would keep them focused and engaged till the last. The adrenalin was high, the concentration intense and the performance exhilarating!
Standing with the audience at that moment was an intense mix of pride and pleasure to see everyone’s hard work pay off."
Thank you Pigtown Theatre, Samatha O'Rourke, Alana Tyson, our community cast and banner makers for helping us celebrate the centenary of women's votes!