As some of you will know, for many years now we have been trying to set up a project about the Conscientious Objectors community of Holton-cum-Beckering. Back in 2014, in tandem with the Broadbent Theatre, we had grants turned down from both the Arts Council and the HLF and just as the project looked as though it had run out of steam we were contacted by somebody who had been part of the Broadbent Theatre who wanted to take the project forward.
Things soon became very exciting as Damon Albarn and then the National Theatre came on board. We became Associate Artists at the National and Rufus Norris was very interested in this being a large community based project that would tour the UK (and that Jim Broadbent, whose father was a key member of the community and who was instrumental in setting up the local theatre would be involved). We also really hoped it would initiate a national debate about what pacifism may mean today.
Three writers were approached – Lee Hall, Richard Bean and Owen Sheers – all of whom turned it down for various reasons. Our contact from the community decided to move ahead on their own with a small show which was understandable (although strategically problematic) which we helped with and, to their credit, the National Theatre team and Damon came down to Lincolnshire to see. It was a very moving occasion with many family members of the CO community being invited, and with Jim Broadbent hosting a Q&A at the end. It was clear that there was a real thirst from the audience to take this story to a national stage.
Unfortunately the National ultimately decided that they would be unable to move ahead with the project which was very disappointing for us and for Damon who had ‘so much music inside me about this!’ (his grandfather was a part of the community).
Over the last couple of years we’ve kept in discussion with Damon’s management and there was always a sense that things could still happen; but last month we decided that enough was enough and pulled the plug (which, to be honest, had been pulled when the National walked away).
Although this is obviously disappointing we have had some remarkable moments, not least interviewing a remarkable man called Donald Sutherland who was one of the community (and who, as a centenarian, was in the show that was made and which toured to a number of venues connected to the pacifist movement across the UK).
It’s also clear to us that Rufus Norris was genuinely excited about the idea of moving work outside of the building and of re-thinking what a ‘national’ theatre may mean; and was very generous with his time throughout.
Having been through this long and ultimately unsuccessful process, we can totally understand how disappointed so many theatre makers must be feeling, knowing that projects they may have worked years on are never going to see the light of day. Onwards and upwards!