When making site-specific work, often the setting, building and context has such an impact that it almost becomes another character in the story you are telling. The most successful performances use this, and the venue’s unique physical, architectural and historical features as an integrated part of the creative work, leaving an audience as intimately entwined in their surroundings as they are in the narrative.
Witchfinder was originally devised for a specific historical venue (Ipswich Town Hall), with the promenade nature of the piece allowing the audience to explore different spaces within the site. However, my discovery of the wonderful 16th Century puritan chapel in Walpole earlier this year instigated the project’s revival in a powerful way.
You can find out more about the history of the building on Walpole Old Chapel’s website, and get a feel for its simple elegance by exploring our photo gallery, but I would thoroughly recommend you experience it in person. Led into the chapel one balmy summer’s afternoon by Witchfinder colleague Robert Gildon (who sits on the chapel’s committee), I was overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of drama and tranquility. Breathing in the musty, wooden scent, entering the chapel’s main ground floor space was like walking into a film set, or travelling back in time. As I wove through the maze of wooden booths and pews, looking up at the huge windows and double pulpit, I could already image Matthew Hopkins and his victims occupying the space.
The chapel’s acoustics make it the most perfect venue in which to perform, its intimate layout providing a level of natural light and warmth you would not expect from a building of this type. Immediately it was obvious that even a few instruments and voices would fill the space with sound. The two-storey pulpit arrangement would not only draw the attention of the audience regardless of where they were seated, but every word, spoken or sung, would be audible without much effort. It was a natural first step for the revival of Witchfinder to bring together a creative team in this very special venue to see how we might revise, adapt and enhance the work with this unique performance space in mind. We also wanted to develop ideas to involve the local community in future performances, enabling local people to engage with the chapel and their local history.
Due to circumstances out of our control our artist residency was held in Dec 2020, in-between COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. This meant that prioritisation of social distancing limited what we were able to explore in terms of physicality and movement within the work. However, the quirks of the chapel’s layout (separate wooden booths, galleried second floor, double layered pulpits) also helped enhance safety measures – our performers had designated spaces in which they could remain, and it was an easy task to slightly adjust positioning to ensure that the Musical Director was visible from all vantages.
As creative artists, just being in this wonderful space for a few days stimulated the imaginations of every member of the team, igniting a shared goal to invite many more members of the community to enjoy its atmosphere and heritage.
“Walpole Old Chapel is such a fantastic performance site for Witchfinder. Not only does it aesthetically look perfect for the time period we are portraying but it gave us space to rehearse safety. “Hannah Curtis, performer
“For me it was amazing to do this wonderful piece in Walpole. Walpole Chapel is in the process of redefining and developing its role in the community and this piece gave it a voice to do that. Everyone benefited – the music, the company, the community and the chapel.“Robert Gildon, performer and Walpole Old Chapel committee member
“Working in the chapel was a joy from start to finish. I felt really alive after having completed the residency.”Aga Serugo-Lugo, Musical Director
“I feel we have become strongly bonded by this experience and I very much look forward to continuing to develop this piece with the company and bring it to audiences next year. “Emma Bernard, Director
The following film was made for visually impaired community performers who will be involved in the project moving forward.