First Reading of Early Scenes

Writer’s Diary: Michael Crowley

A company is emerging. Actors, a costume designer, people interested in taking on stage management, props, marketing, front of house. This from a launch event at Heptonstall bowling club on August 18th, then people messaging me on social media, phoning me, asking how they can be involved. I have, as I thought I would have, more women coming forward to perform than men. But I have tailored the script to include what I believe is a credible female narrative, one that earns its keep dramatically. I am still one or two male actors short but I am confident they will come.

Last week Sky Arts emailed to say they were planning to run a festival at the Barbican Centre in London as a showcase of the projects they were funding, enquiring if we could perform some scenes and how many actors I would be bringing. It is an exciting opportunity but the greater opportunity I believe lies in the six months ahead of a community company working collaboratively to forge a piece of theatre, set in the place in which we live during the greatest upheaval in England since the Norman Conquest.

The Lord hath done such things amongst us as have not been known in the world these thousand years. Oliver Cromwell, 27th January 1654


On Thursday evening this week the emerging cast and myself sat down in the bowling club to read the early scenes from my first draft. It was for me an enjoyable and useful couple of hours. We got to know each other, I heard their voices, they met the characters and the story. We’ll continue in the same vein for the next few weeks as the script comes off the printer and then off the page, shaped by the voices around the table. Cast member Adrian Lord kindly removed the definite and indefinite articles before nouns in his dialogue to create a vernacular sound to the script. i.e. he made it sound Yorkshire, which wasn’t always how I had written it. Another cast member asked the fundamental question, ‘why are we making this play?’Adrian’s answer was that his ancestors were in the village at the time of the battle and he has been looking for them for many years. I hope he finds some part of them in the play. He has also kindly written the piece below for the blog page.

Why Join the Brutish Multitude?

A few years ago, I started researching my family history. My links to Heptonstall stretch back over 400 years on all sides of the family. I now live a few hundred yards from Slack Top where my natural father’s name Robertshaw is thought to have originated in the 1400s.

At the start of my research I had always assumed that prior to soldiers participating in The First World War the village was largely a self-contained rural idyll and would not have been significantly affected by national or global events. As I became more involved in family history it became obvious that the woollen industry has long operated across international boundaries, with wool traded across the whole of England and cloth exported to the Low Countries. Inevitably the everyday lives of ordinary citizens have thus been bound to events beyond their control, family fortunes made and lost due to bad weather, ill health, politics or warfare. One thing that is evident even from the bare evidence of Parish and Census records is the kindness and protection of the village community as an extended family in times of need, and the strong tradition of clubs and societies for entertainment and education which continues to the present day.

Michael Crowley’s script has a strong resonance with modern politics and warfare across the world, where ordinary people trying to cope with the everyday hardships of life suddenly find themselves forced to participate in an escalating situation beyond their control and understanding, radicalised by religion and politics, or bound by personal loyalties.

Cast member Adrian Lord, September, 2018

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Writer’s Diary

I have been undertaking research for this play for many years. Long before I knew I was going to write it. The English Civil War has always interested me. As a subject it is insufficiently taught and dramatized for its importance, not because of its bloodshed which was immense but because of its unfinished business. As soon as we applied for funding, I went back to the books starting with Christopher Hill’s highly influential The World Turned Upside Down first published in 1972. Its contentions are still popular though no longer mainstream, that the Civil War was essentially a revolution inspired by political ideas and economic forces.

Hill’s book and his essays on Puritanism and Revolution are indispensable but they are not the whole story and since his heyday the barometer among historians has swung towards the conflict interpreted much more as a religious war, the final act of the Reformation. The important question, particularly for a playwright is what were the belligerents saying at the time? Enter stage right Tristram Hunt wielding The English Civil War At First Hand. Hunt populates the chronology with testimonies from people of either side. For a wide-angle big picture there is Peter Ackroyd’s Civil War which puts Scotland in the frame for the causes and conduct of the conflict. If I had another six-months I might get to finish Michael Braddick’s God’s Fury, England’s Fire which is remarkable for its intellectual breadth. For the local impact of the war I have visited Halifax library’s archive and was handed the Antiquarian Society Records from 1909 to 1911. These were I think also sourced by David Shires for his book The Halifax Cavaliers and the Heptonstall Roundheads.

Above, Julie Turner spinning yarn.

But text alone is not sufficient research, particularly if one is working in imagery as well. Heptonstall in 1643 was a place where cloth makers lived, spinning and weaving in their homes. My central characters take fleeces and make them into unfinished cloth to be sold at the cloth hall. The best way to begin to understand what this means is to ask those that currently spin and weave by hand, that know how to work with wool and know its qualities. To hold the raw material in my own hand, tug at it and ask questions. I’d like to express my gratitude to Nic Corrigan, Jane Sutherland and Julie Turner who have enlightened me on the complexities of something I have always taken for granted. I am also indebted to Murray Secombe and Diana Monahan of Hebden Bridge Historical Society who are a well of knowledge. Murray has even offered to read a draft of the script for the purposes of historical authenticity. John Spencer from Bankfield Museum who has a particular interest in the Battle of Heptonstall is also putting his shoulder to the wheel. There is thus far, community support for the community play. Back to the desk.

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Launch announced.

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Content being added

Various information will be added over the next few weeks to inform the community and interested parties about our aims, and getting involved.

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Website launched

The Brutish Multitude website has just gone live. Various content will be added shortly to explain the group’s aims, and how to get involved.

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