Opera Film

HerStory is an opera film featuring the creative talents of 85 members of the UK Parkinson’s community.  The piece incorporates music, libretto, choreography and visual art co-created with members of the Parkinson’s community in a series of projects that began back in 2019. In the words of our original cast, the aim of the piece was ‘to show the world what people with Parkinson’s can do.’

With support from Arts Council England, working with partners Britten Pears Arts, English National Opera, Trinity Laban and MuMo Creative, a film of the opera was made for launch on World Parkinson’s Day 2023.


To create the film, specialist Parkinson’s practitioners led a series of singing, dance and art workshops in Suffolk, London, Sussex, Oxford and online enabling around 120 participants to learn repertoire from HerStory, and/or create visual art for animation. Throughout autumn 2022 our film-making team visited each region to film and record sections of the opera.


Supported by Britten Pears Arts, we recorded & filmed members of the East Suffolk Skylarks at the Kiln in Snape Maltings, with vocal leaders Rob Gildon & Steph Wakeman as well as movement director Sarah Lewis.


We were fortunate to have the support of both Trinity Laban & English National Opera to film our London-based cast under the expert supervision of project director Nicola Wydenbach & dance artist Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi.


In Oxford we worked with the lovely MuMo group filming at Oxford Town Hall courtroom & dance sections at Wesley Memorial Hall with artists Nia Williams, Louisa Dalton & Roosa Leimu-Brown.


Finally, in Sussex we worked with two singing groups run by singing leader Debra Skeen; the Tremorlos and Cuckoos, to film the opera’s drinking song in the dining room of The Dorset pub in Lewes. Performers sported nautical stripes and even brought along a collection of their own tankards.

Sharing the film…

The film was first screened at Snape Maltings as part of the 2023 Aldeburgh Festival, where we also led intergenerational singing workshops with the East Suffolk Skylarks Parkinson’s singing group and local primary school children.

In July 2023, Project Director Nicola Wydenbach and Artistic Director Amy Mallett will be heading to Barcelona, where they will be sharing learning from 4 years of HerStory projects at the 6th World Parkinson’s Congress.

A historical tale

HerStory is inspired by the extraordinary exploits of historical Suffolk heroine, Margaret Catchpole.  Margaret achieved notoriety when she stole a horse and rode it from Ipswich to London. She was imprisoned but later escaped, recaptured and eventually sentenced to transportation to Australia in 1801. We know about her story largely due to the letters she continued to exchange with her former employer, Mrs Cobbold, back in England.

You can find out more about Margaret’s story, including historical documents and letters, via the links below:

BBC Myths & Legends
State Library, New South Wales
Sydney Living Museums
TROVE – National Library of Australia

Making the opera

In 2019 artists Amy Mallett, Nicola Wydenbach, Danielle Teale and Sarah Lewis, formed a collaboration with the aim of developing a participatory performing arts project that would:

  • Extend the artistic experience of people living with Parkinson’s by developing accessible and inclusive performance opportunities
  • Celebrate the artistry and quality of art created by and for people living with Parkinson’s
  • Raise the profile of the positive impact of arts participation for people living with Parkinson’s

Throughout 2019 we worked with 20 members of the Parkinson’s community in Suffolk and London to co-create a new operatic work; HerStory: The Catchpole Chronicles.  HerStory combines dance, music, film and animation, celebrating the exploits of historical Suffolk heroine, Margaret Catchpole.  The piece was showcased in a workshop performance with a small cast at the Peter Pears Recital Room at Snape Maltings in August 2019, and as a result the company was invited to further develop the work with an expanded cast for a public sharing at London’s Royal Opera House in 2020.

“It’s given me confidence and reduced isolation. It’s given me new friendships.  It’s given me something to look forward to. It’s given me happiness and a sense of something achieved. It’s made me feel a little bit special in the fact that we all have something to give creatively.”


Lockdown projects

In 2020 alas our Royal Opera House plans were scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, we continued to meet virtually with members of the Parkinson’s community from across the UK in three lockdown projects that explored themes from the opera.

HerStory: The Covid Chronicles

Our first experiments with film, exploring themes of water, sea and emotions.

HerStory: Turning the Tide

Our next project; a short film exploring themes of transportation, transition & journeys.

HerStory: Ev’ry Stitch in the Quilt

A multi-media online exhibition in the form of a digital quilt featuring artwork, creative writing, dance, and audio inspired by the theme of ‘the seasons’.

HerStory projects are supported by: