Jennifer Bell is a composer and performer, based in Bristol,
who works with everyday stories. She is the co-creator of One Side Lies the Sea and
we took the opportunity to catch up with her to find out a bit more about the
What made you want to create this piece of theatre?
This is a period of unprecedented change, both politically,
culturally, but also in terms of industry. It felt to us like the coasts, that
being on the edge of the nation, took the brunt of some of those changes.
We felt that this was a good time to really dig down and
find out actually what people believed and felt – for instance, there are a lot
of myths around why people voted the way that they did in terms of Brexit, and
how people really feel on the coast, so I guess we wanted to unearth some more
sincere and true stories.
How did the process of creating the show work?
Everything in the show is from a recollected conversation or
straight from somebody’s mouth, verbatim. It started with writing songs, which
are portraits of people through song, and through and alongside these we are
telling people’s stories based on our conversations. There’ll be some reflections as well and also some
film. But mostly it’s through spoken word and song.
How have you found the experience?
It’s been really fantastic; we’ve been really embedded in
the coastal communities we wanted to focus on – we went to these places and had
real conversation; we stayed with people, we went on walks with them. They
weren’t just like formal interviews, we actually got to know them.
We learnt so many beautiful fascinating details about
people’s lives. In what ostensibly are very ‘ordinary’ stories, we just
uncovered the most surprising, heroic, laudable, extraordinary people.
But we didn’t want to shy away from the tensions that we
uncovered as well. What we found interesting is that a lot of those tensions
come down to this one simple thing: where you see home. And how you relate to
home. And how much sovereignty you feel in your place of home and what gives
you that sense of sovereignty.
Would you say that’s become the central theme of the piece?
Yes I think it has. It’s about leaving and remaining: what
it means to leave the place you’re from, and what it means to remain in the
place that you’re from. Everyone can relate to that. There’s no single person
who hasn’t done one of those things!
What are some of the stories you’ll be telling and characters you'll be playing?
It’s been really incredible to meet some of the people who
fish on the Solway. There’s a guy called Mark Messenger who we met - a regular
guy who runs a pub – and he described this ancient noble tradition of standing,
like a Zen master, in the Solway and fishing in the way that the Vikings did.
It’s absolutely bonkers – he argued that it’s as old as 3000 years old.
Then there’s also another woman called Sue who’s the only
female pilot launch
coxswain in the UK, and who has built up from scratch an in-shore rescue
service because the RNLI won’t go to where’s she’s from in Hornsea. And now she
and a whole team of volunteers rescue people. She’s incredible.
I’m from Cornwall; we also went down there and spoke to
people who I know really well and we went to places that I know really well,
and I’ve discovered through this process that these places have basically died.
Some of the towns that I grew up in are no longer what they used to be. So it’s
been a personal journey as well.
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