The Witham and the Royal Shakespeare Company collaborate on a new poem about life under lockdown in Barnard Castle.
The Witham is a community arts centre for theatre, music, dance, art, education and social events in the heart of Barnard Castle that has been serving its community for more than 150 years.
Local poet Meg Peacocke wanted to capture the thoughts and feelings of the town during lockdown. When she approached The Witham about creating a poem by having conversations with her community, they were delighted to help. 40 members of the Witham team (including staff, trustees volunteers and Friends) contributed a single sentence in the first week of May 2020. Meg then beautifully wove these together to create Barney Voices, a poem for our community in the time of Covid-19.
The Royal Shakespeare Company collaborated with the Witham in 2016 as part of their Midsummer Night’s Dream; A Play for The Nation project, in which local amateur groups, including the Castle Players of Barnard Castle, played the Rude Mechanicals in a nationwide tour and a run in Stratford. Dream 16 was directed by Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Erica Whyman, and when she heard about Barney Voices, she was keen to help. RSC actors Zoe Lambert, Alice Blundell, Assad Zaman, Vicky hall, Dyfrig Morris and Amanda Hadingue have recorded Meg’s poem for prosperity. The six actors were in the final stages of rehearsals for Erica Whyman’s new production of The Winter’s Tale when the UK went into lockdown in March and have since been supporting the Royal Shakespeare Company with its ongoing education and community participation programmes online.
Erica said, “This is such a lovely project. Written with such sensitivity, Barney Voices captures a huge range of emotions which many will recognise from the roller-coaster of recent weeks. What comes across most strongly is the sense of community, of helping one another through this crisis and finding hope at the other end. My actors and I were very pleased to be able to help bring it to life”
Susan Coffer, Centre Manager of The Witham, said, “I’d like to thank Meg for bringing her creative concept to us and writing such a thought-provoking poem in response to Covid-19. When I first read Barney Voices, I instantly felt it deserved to be heard and who better to speak the verse than RSC actors? I approached Erica knowing her affection for Barnard Castle, having previously worked with local performers. She was immediately on board with the idea and I’m hugely grateful to her and the actors for generously giving their time and making this happen. Supporting each other and finding positives during this unprecedented time is so important for morale and Meg’s poem has connected so many people. Thanks to this RSC collaboration, I’m sure her poem will now reach a much wider audience.”
Poet Meg Peacocke said, “It’s fun when an idea takes off. The making of the poem was an adventure for me, since it’s not as I’d normally write for myself. I am happy if I have given a voice to a small northern town in a way that may speak for others too.”