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More Light on Aphra

Flowers on Aphra Behn's grave

Over the past months we have been working with London students to make discoveries and cast further light on Aphra Behn, the first woman to earn her living by writing. Groups from primary to university level have been discovering aspects of her work and going on to create their own responses, including music, dance and versions of her drama and poetry.

Last year, during lockdown, we were able to stage a small scale commemoration beside Aphra Behn’s grave in Westminster Abbey. This year we are celebrating how much she and her work resonate with today’s young people. There is much still to do – more news soon.

On Thursday 23 rd June from 6.00pm there will be a reception and installation of live and filmed work at Barnard’s Inn Hall, , Holborn EC1N 2HH. The planned rail strike means we are able to offer places to a very few people who would like to see this work and can get to us. Please email us to let us know, as soon as possible to ensure we can save you a place.

The project is supported by the Portal Trust (previously known as Sir John Cass’s Foundation)

 

The Story Continues: Saxons join the Romans online

Two of our schools programmes in partnership with All Hallows by the Tower are now available online. The first, “Ultima Britannia”, set in the early days of Roman London when the new stone city was still unfinished in the aftermath of Boudicca’s rebellion, begins the story of the house whose floor still exists under the church. Visit www.ultimabritannia.co.uk for more details.

Now “Lundenwic” takes us to the time when the semi-abandoned Roman Londinium and the new Saxon town three miles away live as uneasy neighbours with different languages, cultures and ways of life. At All Hallows, the same house still stands, grand but almost derelict, its future left in doubt after the death of its elderly owner. Go to www.lundenwic.org to find out more.

We have now created interactive online versions of both – participants are involved in the stories as they unfold, and invited to decide for themselves what might have happened next.

Thanks to funding from the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage, the Worshipful Company of World Traders and the Derek Shuttleworth Educational Trust, we are able to offer these programmes free to London schools. Please email for further information or to reserve a place for your group.

 

Aphra Behn and After

Aphra Behn by Mary Beale

The workshop phase is well underway. Groups of students from London secondary schools are working on different aspects of Aphra Behn’s work, from her early career as a spy to her life as the first professional woman playwright to the way she has been remembered in the centuries since her death in 1689. One important focus of the project will be Behn’s final play, “The Widow Ranter” which Behn appears to have been struggling to finish in the final months of her life, and which we will be staging for the first time since its one outing in the months following its author’s death. Set in colonial Virginia and loosely based on an uprising in 1670, the play features satire, spectacle, at least four love stories and an out spoken, cross dressing, gin swilling heroine who, like many a Londoner of her time, left to seek her fortune in the new world as an indentured servant. After a semi staged reading of the play we are currently working on aspects of the play with school groups; there will be a full scale production in 2021 as well as a website, www.aphrabehn.london to record and share our discoveries.

Famously Virginia Woolf was among those who helped to bring Aphra Behn’s name out from the shadows in the early twentieth century. Woolf asserted that “all women together ought to let flowers fall on the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds”. Yet this praise for Behn as a trailblazer does not do justice to the quality of her writing. We will indeed be bringing some of our young participants to Westminster Abbey to honour Behn’s memory, not only with flowers for her grave but also with showcases of her work.

   

The era of the two Londons: Lundenwic at All Hallows by the Tower

Lundenwic

Our March 2020 programme for primary schools at All Hallows by the Tower was “Lundenwic” – set in the period when a final few were trying to keep the Roman way of life going in the old Londinium while a new wooden, Saxon city was flourishing three miles away around what is now Trafalgar Square. The two cities did most things differently, from building to poetry, from language to religion. But sometimes a kind of co-operation was possible.

 
   

Walthamstow Notes

Bands event

For the third phase of the Walthamstow Notes project we focused on the area in the 1960s and 70s – the era of post-war change and reconstruction. Famously, the Beatles, as well as the other big bands of the day, played the Granada, which was only the biggest and most famous of many music venues. Local primary schools, the Waltham Forest Music Service, Vestry House Museum and St Saviour’s Church all helped to create a series of events and exhibitions show casing our discoveries and responses to the music of the time. One highlight was a schools band event presided over by locally born Terry Rance, one of the original line-up of Iron Maiden. Another was the twist explosion led by nine year olds which was the finale of our day’s activities at Vestry House Museum.

   
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After Aphra and The Widow Ranter

Will Birch in After Aphra

“After Aphra” is a new look at the story of Aphra Behn and her final play, “The Widow Ranter”. We wrote and staged it in two locations in 2018 – the Hen and Chickens Theatre in Islington and, thanks to the generosity of the Company of Watermen and LIghtermen, the wonderful surroundings of their 1700 Court Room.

The play is set as “The Widow Ranter” is staged for its first and only run in the aftermath of its author’s death, and looks at Behn’s own life story as well as incorporating sections of the play and its music, using an actor and a musician of the day as two of the three characters, while the third, a former indentured servant who has returned to London with the fortune he made in Virginia, is based on the stories of real people of the time.

We plan to revisit “After Aphra” next year as well as working towards a full production of “The Widow Ranter” to tie in with the 350th anniversary in 2021 of the staging of Aphra Behn’s first play.

   
Ultima Britannia

Continuing City: Arts in Education at All Hallows by the Tower

All Hallows by the Tower has been part of the City of London landscape for thirteen hundred years, and people have lived and worked there for far longer. Clio’s Company and the community of All Hallows have been working together since 2001 on a series of arts in education projects, some also involving the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. In the current series, we use a combination of known historical and imagined but possible events to stage a series of site-specific plays and complementary workshops for primary school children to bring to life the rich and complex history of the church in its context.

In November 2018 London primary school children took part in “Ultima Britannia”, a project focusing on London 2,000 years ago when it was a raw, new, dangerous town on the edge of the known world and All Hallows was a building site where a Roman villa was being constructed.

 
   

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For further information on any of these projects and events, please contact us by email.