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Afternoon Play: The Marches

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 13:22, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Editor's note: Over the past year, writer Sebastian Baczkiewicz has been working with the Herefordshire communities of Kington, an historic market town on the English/Welsh border, and Ewyas Harold, a village in the Golden Valley, to create The Marches for Radio 4.

Here, the writer Sebastian Baczkiewicz reflects on the experience, answering some questions set by the producer of The Marches, Sasha Yevtushenko. - PM

the Marches

The Kington Festival Wheelbarrow Race which features in the play about Kington

Sasha Yevtushenko: How did you begin?
Sebastian Baczkiewicz: I wanted to ground each of my plays in stories that the communities had shared with me. I saw my role as taking these stories and weaving them together into a coherent whole. So I began the process by encouraging the participants to think about story-telling in general. I asked them to think about stories connected to where they live. To help, I suggested various headings, for example: stories of love, of exile, stories about one's neighbours, about the past. The raw material that I collected through these workshops became the starting point for the plays.

How did the workshops contribute to the writing process?
First of all, they gave me the feel of the pieces, the sense of where we were. For example, in Ewyas Harold the village acts as a sort of airlock between the modern world and a much more isolated, rural world which exists in the surrounding hills.

In Ewyas Harold, I got the idea for the play's structure after speaking to a gentleman who had been a mobile librarian in rural Herefordshire for many years. As time went on, I began to see how a character with that job would give us the potential to travel, and I really wanted to have that sense of movement in the play. As soon as I discovered that character, I knew I had a way in. The conceit also allowed me to weave many of the other stories I had heard into the narrative. That's how Fearless Librarian Saves The Day began.

What about your other play, Man In A Wheelbarrow?
I had the idea of using an outsider. Dramatically, what happens when you have an outsider as a protagonist is that it opens the world of the play out to the audience. In Man In A Wheelbarrow, Trudy has travelled from Seattle in search of information about her family background. This device was a way of seeing the town of Kington with fresh eyes. It provided me with a way in to telling the story.

How important was the rural setting to your plays?
For me the countryside evokes timelessness. I had the feeling that I was in the middle of a landscape that hadn't changed its character over the last thousand years. It was made clear to me by the communities that there is an almost symbiotic relationship between the countryside and the town. The towns evolve from the landscape; they're built around the agricultural life of the community. As a resident of the town said to me "What's bad for the countryside, is bad for Kington". I knew I had to get this sense of timelessness into the scripts.

What happened after you wrote the scripts?
As soon as I finished the first drafts, I arranged to go back to each community. We divvied up the parts and read the plays aloud together. In Kington, the people who were the inspiration for certain characters in my play, ended up reading themselves - or at least my version of them. It was really nerve-wracking for me, but thankfully it was very positive - an extraordinary moment, not lost on any of us.

How useful was it recording the plays on location in Hereforshire?
It was very useful for the actors. They got a sense of the town, what they were dealing with. For instance, the actor Richard Elfyn was playing the role of Kington's street-sweeper in Man In The Wheelbarrow. On the day of recording he actually had a chance to have a cup of tea and a good chat with the inspiration for the character - Kington's real street-sweeper. It was a unique experience - for both of them. I had a palpable sense that the Kington community really enjoyed that process.

Did the final plays achieve what you wanted?
I hope so. It's important to stress that I was never seeking to create a definitive portrait of either community. Rather than the documentary truth, my aim was to capture the spirit of each place. The communities provided the stories, and it was my job to make it seem as though these were all part of one story. What was so unique and exciting about this project was that 'real life' and 'drama' were separated by only a single buffer, and that was me. It was a scary undertaking, but also a great honour.

Paul Murphy is the editor of the Radio 4 blog

  • Man In A Wheelbarrow and Fearless Librarian Saves the Day will be broadcast on Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 September at 2.15pm on Radio 4. You can listen online for seven days afterwards.
  • If you have access to a digital TV, you can press the red button from any BBC TV channel at this time and select "The Marches" to watch the film that accompanies each play. The films and plays will also be available on the Radio 4 website after broadcast.
  • There's a video about the making of The Marches on the Radio 4 website.

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