In March 2016 we took part in the Our Lincolnshire project where we worked for 6 weeks in two local towns: Louth and Grantham. The aim was to create performances in (and where possible, with) the community that celebrated heritage and history of each location. Here is what happened in Grantham:
The strong female history in Grantham really interested us and so we decided to create a performance based on key women from Grantham’s past. Firstly we explored Edith Smith, the first female police officer to have power of arrest in Britain. Through song, projection and narration we told the story of the brave woman that shaped the future of the police force across the whole country and who was at risk of being forgotten in the town that she worked in.
Our next section was about the canal women that worked in Grantham in the early 1900s. This section was completely lead by volunteer performers Rosemary, who dressed in traditional canal attire and used her extensive knowledge of the Grantham canals to perform a completely improvised monologue, and Garry who performed two original songs about the canals.
Both Garry and Rosemary performed alongside other members of the St Peters Hill players in the next section which was all about Violet Van der Elst- a woman who saved one of Grantham’s most beautiful buildings and led an extravagant and colourful life. This was a one act play that was performed with script in hand and was rehearsed over two hours on the day of the performance- a challenge that all of the St Peters Hill players rose to with enthusiasm and professionalism. Violet was a fascinating woman that led a life of controversy; her life story is so complicated that it is almost farcical and the actors that worked with us captured this perfectly.
The final Grantham woman that we could not avoid talking about was Margaret Thatcher. We decided to focus on the young Margaret that grew up in Grantham. Using the words of the people that knew her, we outlined how Margaret divided opinion even as a young girl. Fully aware that Margaret was still a sensitive topic for the town, we took a neutral stance on her politics and instead focussed on the facts about the young Margaret. We celebrated her as a strong woman flying the flag for Grantham’s women rather than as a political figure.
We met so many incredible women during our time in Grantham that it felt important to celebrate them as much as these historical figures in the performance. We used extracts from ‘The Chestnut Tree’, a story written about a Grantham landmark by local superwoman Betty Elmer, to start and finish the evening. We also displayed the photography of Anne Stephens, our Grantham guru that gave her time and knowledge every week during the project, throughout the performance via projections and in a gallery in the foyer. We also collected donations for the Grantham Museum after the performance as they were not only an incredible source of help and support to us during our research but they do an amazing job of preserving and celebrating Grantham’s history and heritage.