RSC helps celebrate Barney Voices

Published: 2 June 2020
Reporter: Peter Lathan

(Top) Zoe Lambert, Dyfrig Morris and Alice Blundell. (Bottom) Vicky Hall, Assad Zaman and Amanda Hadingue

Members of the RSC cast of The Winter’s Tale help celebrate Barnard Castle’s experience of lockdown by recording Barney Voices, a poem capturing the thoughts and feelings of the town during lockdown.

Barnard Castle hit the national headlines because of Dominic Cummings’s controversial visit to the town, but this project was in progress before that happened.

Local poet Meg Peacocke wanted to capture the reactions of the town during lockdown. She approached The Witham, the market town's community arts centre, about creating a poem by having conversations with her community, and they were delighted to help. 40 members of the Witham team (including staff, trustees volunteers and Friends) contributed a single sentence in the first week of May 2020. Peacocke then wove these together to create Barney Voices, a poem for the Barnard Castle community in the time of COVID-19.

Members of the Castle Players, the town's amateur theatre group, played the Rude Mechanicals in the North East leg of a nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play for the Nation in 2016. That production was directed by Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Erica Whyman, who had been Artistic Director of Northern Stage from 2005 to 2013. When she heard about Barney Voices, she was keen to help.

“This is such a lovely project," she said. “Written with such sensitivity, Barney Voices captures a huge range of emotions which many will recognise from the rollercoaster of recent weeks. What comes across most strongly is the sense of community, of helping one another through this crisis and finding hope at the other end. My actors and I were very pleased to be able to help bring it to life.”

The actors involved, who were rehearsing Whyman’s new production of The Winter’s Tale when the UK went into lockdown in March and have since been supporting the RSC with its ongoing education and community participation programmes online, are Zoe Lambert, Alice Blundell, Assad Zaman, Vicky Hall, Dyfrig Morris and Amanda Hadingue.

Fittingly, four of the six are either from or have close links to the region. Zoe Lambert, although originally from Yorkshire, now lives and works in the region, while Blundell, Zaman and Hall are native North Easterners.

Susan Coffer, Centre Manager of The Witham, said, “I’d like to thank Meg for bringing her creative concept to us and writing such a thought-provoking poem in response to COVID-19.

“When I first read Barney Voices, I instantly felt it deserved to be heard and who better to speak the verse than RSC actors? I approached Erica knowing her affection for Barnard Castle, having previously worked with local performers. She was immediately on board with the idea and I’m hugely grateful to her and the actors for generously giving their time and making this happen.

“Supporting each other and finding positives during this unprecedented time is so important for morale and Meg’s poem has connected so many people. Thanks to this RSC collaboration, I’m sure her poem will now reach a much wider audience.”

“It's fun when an idea takes off,” poet Meg Peacocke added. “The making of the poem was an adventure for me, since it's not as I'd normally write for myself. I am happy if I have given a voice to a small northern town in a way that may speak for others too.”

The full poem can be heard, with the text as subtitles, on The Witham’s web site and on Vimeo.