Payhembury play was as good as anything in the West End

PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 June 2011

What will be in your diaries Rose? Tilley Vanstone as Rose Craddock in TVCT'ss original play Hollyhayes.  Pic: Andrew Cowan.

What will be in your diaries Rose? Tilley Vanstone as Rose Craddock in TVCT'ss original play Hollyhayes. Pic: Andrew Cowan.


“I thought TVCT surpassed itself in this production. Easily the most thoughtful, stimulating, touching and enjoyable play I have seen for a long time... on a par with War Horse which I saw in London.”

When audience members compared Hollyhayes to a production at The National Theatre, you are sure that it was a success. Hollyhayes, three years in the making and based on extensive interviews with a range of people involved with agriculture, took place in a building at Victoria Dairy Farm, Payhembury, in East Devon on June 16, 17 and 18. An empty building was transformed into an effective performance space and six hundred tickets sold out in three weeks.

The main story concerned the Craddock family, a typical Devon farming family at Hollyhayes Farm, comprising father Jack and mother Mary, academic-minded daughter Rose and heavy-metal band member son Ben, who is expected to take on the farm when Jack retires. The post-performance evaluation which was carried out through questionnaires and interviews revealed that a high proportion of audience members deemed the play to be authentic in the ways it portrayed farming life. Farmers and farming family members especially deemed the storyline to be true to life and some admitted to being deeply moved by the violent bust-up between Ben and his father, a rift which was not healed before Jack’s death.

Directed by Alan Boxer, a choir of 26 and six instrumentalists provided original music with words by Nick Pruce and music by Charles West. The storyline was punctuated by the verbatim words of people who had been interviewed. Spoken by actors, four of whom were farmers, these voices were accompanied by images which evoked aspects of farming life past and present.

Director and co-writer of Hollyhayes, John Somers, is conducting an in-depth evaluation of audience and participant responses to the play. John will use the research evidence in writing a range of articles for publication in popular and academic publications and as a contribution to a book he is writing on Community Theatre. As artistic director of Tale Valley Community Theatre, he has originated eight major Community Theatre productions since 2000 when a play Parson Terry’s Dinner was created to celebrate the millennium. In addition, workshops on animation, dramatic writing, storyboarding, film making and other aspects of drama have been held.

In speaking of the artistic policy of TVCT, John said: “This is a play made by and performed to the community. With Hollyhayes, as with all other TVCT productions, we are seeking a truth about rural life in our part of East Devon and, in portraying it, we try to find the right balance between social efficacy in the community and artistic standards. We seek good drama and good social impact – both amongst the participants and the audiences to which we perform. The feedback has almost unanimously been extremely positive. Many farmers seem to regard Hollyhayes as having given them a voice and the discussions in the post-production bar were animated and passionate.”

John is an international expert in community and Interactive Drama, having worked in the last six months in the Palestinian Territories, Turkey, Finland, Czech Republic and Poland. So interested were they in the concept of Community Theatre that two participants in that work, Barbora Krejčová from Brno University and Joanna Belzyt from the famous Polish Gardzienice Theatre Company came to help with the last two weeks of Hollyhayes rehearsals and performances.

Rose Craddock, the lead character in the Hollyhayes story, was played by Tilley Vanstone. Having studied at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary and taken leading roles in previous TVCT productions, Tilley is now studying drama at Exeter University’s prestigious drama department. In fact the Vanstone family is a backbone of TVCT as Tilley’s father, Trevor, was a co-writer of Hollyhayes and acted in it and mother Jayne is chairman of TVCT and worked backstage in this production. Co-writer Geoff Nicholson also appeared in the play, coaxing laughs from the audience as pessimistic old codger Albert. The sound was handled by Pete Privett, well known locally for his technical theatre skills and the stage management was under the direction of Ali Owen, an extremely experienced theatre worker. The production contained a great deal of back-projected still and video sequences and these were handled by Neill Bayley, Luke Ellis and Abi Stephens. Lighting was operated by Richard Cook.

One encouraging aspect of this theatre project was the huge support given by local people and businesses. In particular, Philip Callard of C Plant Services of Fenny Bridges gave free use of a generator, farmers Colin Reed and Tex Tidball supplied bales, Apex Scaffolding metalwork and farmer Robert Leach helped greatly by using his Manitou hydraulic tractor to assist with rigging lighting and achieving blackout. The company also wishes to thank Douglas and Vera Daymond, owners of Victoria Dairy Farm for their unstinting support and encouragement in making Hollyhayes possible.

A DVD of the performances is being produced by film maker and website designer Ben Vallack of Phototropic ( and, when it is ready, copies will be available on the TVCT website.

For more information about Tale Valley Community Theatre see

“Incredible. This village theatre had much more impact and quality than some West End plays I’ve seen. It was an honour to be in the audience for such a precious performance.”

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