Four Score Years and Ten

Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations: Four Score Years and Ten

Assistant Producer Amy Pattison gives an insight into the making of a new theatre show celebrating Winchester’s 90-year-old residents.

Hat Fair and Flintlock Theatre have, over the course of the last two months, been developing a new production which will culminate in 9 very special performances around Winchester and District this coming September, funded by Winchester City Council.

Tasked with the prospect of how to best celebrate the Queen’s 90th Birthday Year in a joyous theatrical style, Flintlock decided they wanted to create a verbatim piece of theatre. Verbatim theatre uses the words of real people and recites them, as they were said, in the show. It felt right for the company to focus on community members in their 90’s – or 9th decade – to tie in with the Council’s celebrations of the Queen’s milestone birthday so together we set about finding willing participants who wanted an opportunity to talk about their lives.

We built partnerships with 3 local charities who are doing incredible work in the city: Winchester Live at Home Scheme, St John’s Winchester Charity and Age UK Mid Hampshire. These charities could not have been more helpful with the engagement process and agreed to help us by offering the opportunity to their contacts and residents and thank goodness we had some uptake!

We decided to bring these willing people together for tea and cake and an informal chat about a range of topics; some of these discussions got pretty heated as you can imagine! But some of the wartime and personal stories that emerged had the whole room silent, attentively listening. These sessions allowed Flintlock to get to know the people and to decide who was going to be interviewed one-to-one later on in the process.

Age UK were kind enough to let us join one of their Winchester lunch clubs one afternoon where I was treated as an honoured guest on a table of older gentlemen who took lots of pleasure in telling me about their careers; I even spoke to a former RAF pilot! We were disrupted, however, by a sudden burst of noise and energy: the raffle was being called! So that’s what the pink tickets were for, I’d been meaning to ask. They were raffling off items of food that had been brought in by everyone: a plethora of chocolate biscuits and sweeties. One of my companions offered his prize away to a lady at a different table who gratefully accepted her new chocolate hobnobs and when I asked why he simply replied “diabetes” with a wink. This was such a warm and friendly place where people can come to socialise and to have a good laugh with their friends, or to make new ones.

After these sessions were completed and the notes and transcriptions typed up, Flintlock had the incredibly difficult job of fashioning these incredible stories, or parts of stories, into a play, which they have done marvellously.

Photographic portraits have been taken by Joe Low of the six Winchester people whose stories have been chosen and will be displayed at each of the performance venues. When this idea was first put to our participants, comments like “What do you want to take a picture of me for!?” or “God, I’ll get the polyfiller out” were aplenty but the lovely photos have been taken and I hope you get to see them displayed somewhere in Winchester for a while after the show is over.

The casting is complete and rehearsals are about to begin so be sure to join Phyllis, Tom, Charlie, June, Eve and Lewis in a tea party to remember on the 2 – 4 September.