Theatre: In Cider Story from Monday, March 11, in pubs around North Somerset.
If you could choose the most agreeable, welcoming place to go and watch a piece of theatre, the chances are that your local pub – with a glass in your hand – would be fairly high up that wish list. And the latest initiative from North Somerset theatre producers Theatre Orchard makes this appetising vision into reality.
Theatre Orchard have joined forces with local writer Adam Peck and Bristol theatre troupe Living Spit to present a brilliant slice of comedy-theatre, fizzing with local flavour, that will play in a clutch of North Somerset boozers over the next fortnight.
Peck is the playwright and Bristol Old Vic Associate Artist who created the Tobacco Factory's marvellous 2011 Christmas show Cinderella. Living Spit – director Craig Edwards and actors Stu McLoughlin and Howard Coggins – were last seen with the delicious, drag queen comedy-cum-history lesson The Six Wives of Henry VIII. That play featured the stocky, thickset Coggins as a brilliantly lifelike Henry, and McLoughlin – strangely captivating in drag – as each of his six unfortunate wives.
You'll now see the colourful duo in the corner of your local boozer, playing a pair of feuding North Somerset brothers in a story of apples and cider, moles and myths, fiddling and flooding.
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The play in question is In Cider Story, written by Peck with inspiration from various Somerset legends and tales. "The story is about two brothers," Adam explains. "One inherits the family farm, the other does not. The latter is banished by the former to live on a hill, where he attempts to make a living as a hill farmer. The inheritor, meanwhile, sets to work to find the treasure that he's convinced is buried somewhere on the land – but this involves levelling the land, making it prone to flooding. The hill farmer, meanwhile, struggles – but takes solace wassailing his beloved apple tree [singing to the tree, to encourage a good harvest].
"There is a mole plague, a flood, somebody gets struck by lightning – and everyone gets their just desserts."
Brilliantly, there are also two alternative endings, and each night's audience chooses the one that works for them. The play also features live music from Bristol folk composer/ musician Lizzy Westcott.
Adam's ideas for the show came from a mixture of local history and folklore. "On my birthday three years ago, a hoard of 52,500 Roman coins, discovered in a Somerset field earlier that year, was declared treasure. The story stuck with me, and forms the spine of this play: the tale of a brother looking for treasure on his land. The setting is the North Somerset Levels, an expanse of low-lying flat ground that is prone to flooding. Various geographical features in and around North Somerset, including Glastonbury Tor and Burrow Mump, inspired the all-important hill."
Adam's tale also incorporates the well-known folklore staple of the golden apple, which appears in various national and ethnic folk legends. "The hero is often depicted retrieving the golden apples that have been hidden or stolen by a monstrous antagonist. In my story, the apple is the treasure that the brother has been looking for. The banished brother accidentally finds it growing from one of the branches of the trees he's been growing on the family farm since he was a small child."
There are also, Adam explains, elements of the Cain and Abel story in the depiction of two warring brothers. There's even a godly intervention, when one of them is struck by lightning.
"Somerset is generally seen as a place of charm and serenity, but this story uses the setting to explore more troubling themes of ownership, community, selfishness, environmental damage and the subsequent revenge of nature, via flooding and death."
And can we expect some good rough-edged Somerset accents? "With Howard and Stu you can expect some good rough-edged acting," director Craig reveals. "Unfortunately they have little control over what comes out of their mouths."
In Cider Story from Monday, March 11, pubs around North Somerset. See listings for details.