Play brings memories flooding back
JESSE Briton, the director of a play that was performed at Wells Little Theatre in February, says it was a tough but rewarding experience.
Tough because there are reminders of his amateur actor father Chris throughout the building. Rewarding because the play, Reclaimed, which tells the story of the serious flooding in Somerset in 2014, was so well received by the Wells audience, as it has been wherever it has been performed.
“The response from audiences had been overwhelmingly positive. Not only for the subject matter, but also because we are a Somerset company telling a Somerset story to Somerset people,” said Jesse.
“The importance of local stories told by local people can never be overstated and I’m very proud that this production has connected with people on that level.”
Jesse grew up in Wells and went to Wells Blue School where he says his interest in theatre and performance was sparked by “two incredible teachers”, Peter Wild and Simon Moody. His father was an equally big influence.
“My dad, Chris, passed away about nine months ago. Many people remember him locally from his time as mayor and his involvement with the Little Theatre, and coming back with Reclaimed was quite tough. There are pictures of Chris throughout the building in productions that are burned into my memory,” said Jesse.
“In fact, the first performance I ever saw was a production of The Ghost Train at Wells Little Theatre. I can still remember the sensation of awe that I had when watching it. I was genuinely terrified at points and seeing my dad in it made it all the more accessible for me.
“Whilst he wasn’t a trained performer, I learnt a lot from my dad about performance in general. He taught me that nothing would be good, or watchable, unless you were enjoying yourself. I’m always reminded of this lesson when teaching and it’s remarkable how applicable it is to all sorts of situations. Those who knew Chris will no doubt remember how religiously he applied this to his own life.”
Having trained as an actor and theatre-maker at East 15 Acting School, Jesse now runs Wassail, the company that produced Reclaimed, with producer Nick White, one of three theatre companies that he has founded and continues to make work through. The others are Bear Trap and the Jones Collective.
In Reclaimed, the cast of six act out the drama surrounded by the audience, all supposedly sheltering from the rising floodwater in a village hall – which in the case of the Little Theatre was actually the rehearsal room.
“We decided to stage Reclaimed in an ‘immersive’ style for two reasons,” said Jesse.
“Firstly, it’s a great way of bringing the audience closer to the show. We knew this piece was about a community and we wanted the audience to feel as much a part of that as possible. Secondly, as a Somerset-based company we’re limited in the traditional theatre spaces that we can tour to. Rather than seeing that as an obstacle we saw it as an opportunity to turn everyday spaces into stages.”
He says that the theatre company will be returning to Wells with future productions.
“Wassail is committed to touring work all across Somerset and Wells is a vital part of that link,” he said.
“We’ll definitely be back to the Little Theatre and other venues in Wells. Also, the audience in Wells is better than anywhere else in Somerset, but I guess I’m biased.”