The Big Reveal Digs Deep!
The Heart of the Wood
A new musical theatre piece by Martin Riley and David Burridge.
World Premiere performances at Folkestone School for Girls, Dover Town Hall and Sir Roger Manwood’s School, Sandwich. November 8th, 9th and 10th. 2019.
“The ‘Big Reveal’ project, which, under its directors David Burridge and Matthew Sharp, brings the creative arts to communities is one of East Kent’s cultural treasures. With sponsorship from Arts Council England and Folkestone School for Girls, this titanic production, involving music, drama, contemporary dance, illustrations and publishing is their latest extraordinary achievement.
The three successive performances in different venues enabled a whole range of youth music groups, choirs and voices to participate alongside Revelation Strings and three professional actors who provided the foundation for each subtly different enactment of the haunting story. A skilled technical team used lighting and projections to transform unpromising spaces into genuine theatrical environments.
The Heart of the Wood deals with the story of ex-miner, Harry Woody woodman and his two grandchildren. Following one of the most shameful events in our national and local history: the closure of coal mines without any thought or planning for the communities and individuals whose lives were torn apart, hundreds of miners from the North of England re-located to the coalfields of East Kent, bringing with them a rich culture of language and music. This diverse community informs the world of Martin Riley’s hard-hitting and witty libretto. Grandfather (Woody) has often intrigued his grandchildren Jake and Megan with his stories of life in the pits but he has lost the will to tell more stories because, as his daughter tells us, he has ‘left his heart in the pit’ now that his closest mining friend, ‘Rabbit’ has died. In a complex and wonderful fantasy, Woody’s grandchildren go down into the hell of Grandfather’s underworld in search of his heart. What they discover is evidence of the horrors and reality of life in the pits but also hope for the future: for a world sustainable without burning coal and needing our loving care if it is to survive.
All this is told through music, dialogue and dance. David Burridge’s brilliantly varied musical score makes many an overpriced West End Musical seem trite and tawdry: it is a blend of pulsating rhythms, glorious melody and fantastic soundscapes. The dancers from Folkestone School for girls danced with intensity and memorable images and the actors Matthew Sharp, Jo Pearson-Farr and Martin Riley, supported by strong individual speaking voices and choirs, gave a vibrant and passionate flavour to the whole inspiring narrative. Unlike many a show that ends with a self-congratulatory chorus, this unique work ended with an exquisite solo song sung by Holly Wray and a message for us all to care for our planet before the children renewed their pleas for more stories.
Martin Riley’s memorable work is also published in book form by a young team from Folkestone School for Girls, financed by the school with illustrations by the girls and children from Warden House and Aylesham Primary Schools …but if this was not enough, the performance event actually began with a prelude of music from the orchestra and a succession of Academy Bands from Shepway, Deal and Sandwich! One began to wonder just what other ingredients of music and performance on the theme of sustainability could be stirred into the magic porridge pot of this totally memorable experience. However hard government and other ludicrous educational ideas attempt to squeeze the arts out of the lives of our children, they will re-emerge in some other form so long as projects like ‘the Big Reveal’ have our support.
Ken Pickering is Hon. Professor of Drama at the University of Kent and lead assessor for the Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre.