"a valuable piece of drama"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 26/01/18

RECLAIMED! Is a docu-drama play re-interpreting events in the recent history of the ancient Somerset Levels, a large area diverse in both its nature and agricultural productivity. Long-populated by farmers and craft-workers, the shire’s ancient name suggests that Winters here, bring hardships. Devised by Wassail Theatre Ensemble, the drama is touring through several West Country communities, both rural and small towns. This night, ‘Reclaimed!’ was performed at the historic Bridgwater Arts Centre.

Intrepid are these actors, mostly born & bred around this locality, in which their play is set. Brave they are, to perform a play about actual events of which many in their audiences have clear memories and intimate knowledge. Holding a mirror close-up to their patrons’ faces, and trusting they will like the apparition of reality they see, is as courageous as live performers can get. But the company of Wassail Theatre have dared and won deserved applause, warmed with apparent affection for their empathic interpretation of fictional characters akin to those who suffered dreadful traumas, physical and emotional, in villages and farming communities on the Somerset Levels a few winters ago.

Yet faithful also, to the ethics of their professional calling, the actors lace their play with vitality and entertaining humour as well as a little pathos. Never maudlin or unduly sentimental, but true to the spirit of the folk they portray, this close-knit band of travelling players, show tensions and mutual support between them, just as did the real victims of the devastating (and avoidable ) floods during those depressingly dark, home-sodden, mud-saturated weeks, months, and continuing burdensome years.

Had the producers, Nick White and Emma Vickery chosen to include more facts and ask their actors to portray actual events and village people, this show could have been taken into schools to ‘put flesh’ on young people’s studies in local geography and social history … but instead the emphasis is to give an authentic impression, typical of people facing these difficulties. The performers act much like the real community stalwarts must have done. And skilfully they encourage individuals sitting around the auditorium, to join in, commenting in simple ways, adding atmosphere to the action, much as may have happened in communal ‘flood-meetings’ where strategies were discussed and the Environment Agency personnel castigated (perhaps sometimes unfairly) for failing to prevent an economic and health-threatening disaster that farmers had been predicting for years.

Altogether, this is a valuable piece of drama in which Wassail Theatre and the unbowed people of Somerset can take pride. The company has a very professional web-site, listing names of cast and designers with information about performance venues and dates, plus past and future projects. It’s well-worth looking up to fire your interest in this creative ensemble, committed to bringing a fresh cultural dimension to places and issues often neglected. So do dive into this show before it drains away and leaves you high & dry without a puddle.

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