This was a refreshing production, a breath of fresh air, in which a local community was supported by four professional actors. The aim wasn't simply to perform a play but to offer training in a variety of theatre skills ranging from song and dance to lighting, costume and set design.
The church was full, an encouraging start, and the audience were immediately engaged. This relatively modern church was a challenging venue in itself; both the set and the lighting were used to advantage here. The bow-shaped set drew the audience into Doxey, the two late Victorian terraces being divided by the local river, the Sow, and behind them, Doxey Marshes; this nicely crafted set, therefore, provided a symbolic introduction. The low-timbered roof of the church also aided the lighting and gave the stage a warm and intimate atmosphere. One of the strengths of the production was that it didn't need to rely on a few individual performances; there is no need to single out any individual performer but rather the corporate strength of an entire community engaged in a project which united it.
The theme was the history of Doxey during the last sixty years, in other words, the living memory of, at least, the elder residents. One character, Bob, holds the play together: he is seen, initially, as a boy often fishing in the River Sow, and it's Bob's hobby, fishing, which provides a useful metaphor, to' trawl the depths for a yarn spun years ago'. The play, therefore, opens with a child's perspective on Doxey at the end of the Second World War and it's local children as much as adults who play an integral part in this production. The atmosphere is festive and hopeful, the war is over, Doxey is at peace, and Bobby finds `a new stream .... and will catch many big fish'. Songs are sung by the choir and a Victory Party is celebrated with bunting in the Doxey streets.
The next scene, however, provides a stark contrast, a darker note, when a letter arrives from Africa breaking the news to Bobby that his father had been killed in the war. The sombre way the letter was read aloud, a shared role between the African writing it and Bobby's mother reading it, was an effective method of stagecraft.
The scenes which follow chart the transformation of Doxey from a village into a suburb, yet a suburb which never loses its identity as, unlike many suburbs, Doxey has retained its strong roots and this project vibrantly affirms that identity.
. The `homes fit for heroes' turn out to be prefabs and the 'People's Republic of Doxey is swelled by an influx of new residents from the Birmingham slums. The immediate post-war costumes appeared to be extremely authentic and the humour contained in the Universal Grinding Wheel song, with its banjo player, proved to be one of the highlights of the production.
The Universal Grinding Wheel Company with its diverse products- ball bearings, cars, forks and bicycles - also acts as a cement to bind the Doxey residents `to stick around together'. Here Bob, like many of his neighbours, finds employment and enjoys his leisure hours not only fishing, as when a boy, but also socializing at the Doxey Institute and playing football and cricket on Universal's pitches.
By the end of an enjoyable evening the audience have seen Bob grow up, marry Ena, the spirited Doxey midwife, become a father, and, finally, in retirement at seventy, he can reflect with Ena on their lives in Doxey, and the many changes they had experienced there during the last sixty years. The years pass, the bunting is displayed again for Doxey to celebrate the Queen's coronation, the Station Master and the Engine Drivers fade into history like the steam trains that once blackened Castletown, and in their stead, the M6 arrives on the outskirts of Doxey to herald a new age.
This production wasn't simply entertaining, it was educational both for those participating in the project, and for the large and appreciative audience who could see sixty years of Doxey's past rolled out like a carpet before them. The corporate creativity, energy and enthusiasm of the Doxey community sustained "Village Voices" and it was fortunate to receive unobtrusive guidance from both Mikron and local professionals.
David Bastable 19/05/05