What was it like living though The Great Plague? Stamford Shoestring Theatre Company’s production, The Roses of Eyam, reveals the true story of the impact of the Plague on 17th Century rural England
Bubonic Plague was a fact of life – and death – in medieval England. One third of the population of Peterborough & Stamford died of The Black Death during the 1300s, but outbreaks continued for hundreds of years, with the last major outbreak – The Great Plague – killing 100,000 people across England in the 1660s.
Don Taylor’s acclaimed play, The Roses of Eyam, tells the heartbreaking and true story of a small Derbyshire village, which, by a cruel twist of fate, became infected with the Plague in 1665, and whose residents decided to quarantine themselves from the outside world. The villagers’ heroic sacrifice undoubtedly prevented the disease spreading to neighbouring villages, but it came at a heavy price; as many as half of the villagers perished, with many families wiped out completely.
Bringing this important story to the stage has been a major undertaking for Stamford Shoestring Theatre Company, director Ken Walsh, and his cast of 40 actors and musicians. The production has involved the company in painstaking research – including on location in the village itself – and study of the dialect and dances of the period. The set is dominated by a replica of the Saxon stone cross which stands in the real-life churchyard in the village, and where prayers were held in the open air during the year-long outbreak. Talented folk musicians have researched the traditional music of the period, and will help to create the authentic atmosphere of 17th Century England. Even the costumes have mostly been sourced from Eyam, to ensure the cast look as much like their real-life namesakes as possible.
Director Ken Walsh said: ‘This is one of the most exciting productions that I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in, and I’m looking forward to bringing this remarkable story to audiences in Stamford in June, both at the Arts Centre and as part of the Stamford Festival. I’m also particularly pleased that we’ve been invited to take part in the summer season at the world-famous Minack Theatre in Cornwall. This is Stamford Shoestring’s seventh invitation, which is a real achievement for a small theatre company like ours, and we are very proud to be flying the flag for local community theatre.’
The play undoubtedly tells a tragic story, but this production also captures the joy, dancing and even comedy of rural English village life. And ultimately, it reveals the answer to one question, whilst posing another, equally important, one: How do ordinary people respond to extraordinary situations? And would we be willing to make the same sacrifice today?
The Roses of Eyam runs at Stamford Arts Centre from Tuesday 4th to Saturday 8th June, with an outdoor performance as part of the Stamford Festival in the gardens of Stamford’s historic Browne’s Hospital on Sunday 23rd June. The production then transfers to the Minack open-air theatre in Cornwall starting on Monday 15th July for a one-week run.
Tickets for all the Stamford performances are available from the Stamford Arts Centre Box Office on 01780 763203, or on their website www.stamfordartscentre.com
Tickets for Minack are available from www.minack.com