WELLS is always a joy to visit and to shop in, with its wide selection of independent shops and popular high street names. But shoppers got more entertainment than they bargained for last Saturday, when Bristol-based Show of Strength theatre company brought Trading Local to the city.
The concept of Trading Local is simple but brilliant – a group of professional writers create short (10 to 15 minute) plays which are performed by professional actors in shops, bars, cafes and public spaces around the town. There have already been successful Trading Local days in Bedminster and Crewkerne, and the visit to Wells was organised in conjunction with Wells Festival of Literature. Festival director Emma Craigie was one of the writers with work featured on the day; the others were Kate Allen, Elaine Banks, Gill Bicknell, Jim Boyd, Maire Campbell, Jacquie Franks, Melanie Greenwood, Laura McFall, Tim O’Connor, Ana Salote and Claire de Sully.
There were a total of 45 performances of 12 plays, from mid-morning to late afternoon, in shops that ranged from F Griffiths & Sons Butchers to Queenie’s Tearoom and Vintage Shop, from the Magpie Bistro to St Margaret’s Hospice Shop, from Wells Library to Wells Film Centre.
As the day wore on, the peripatetic audiences got to know each other, seeing the same faces at successive performances, so it became not only a theatrical occasion but a social one. As they followed the plays, many audience members found themselves in shops they may not have previously visited – but hopefully will return to as customers. The glorious sunshine meant that the audiences could gather outside the smaller shops, while the proprietors of the cafes and clothes shops did not have to worry about dripping macs or wet shoes.
At any one time there were three plays being performed, so nobody could see all of them, but a taste of just three was enough to show me the strength of this concept, the quality of the selected writers and the skill of the actors.
I caught up with Trading Local at Griffiths, where Rachael Fagan performed Emma Craigie’s profoundly sad monologue, God, It’s Hot In Here, the story of a woman who gave birth to twins, only to lose one shortly afterwards.
Then we moved along the High Street to Mistral, where David Reakes gave us the poignant but funny story of Prince Steve (Ana Salote). Inspired by the rock star Prince, Steve is a disco dancer who dreams of fame and fortune, which may be just around the corner if it is true that a Britain’s Got Talent scout will be at the dance-club tonight. But can he believe what his friend Sarah’s drunken and violent boyfriend tells him?
Further along the High Street, we gathered by the check-outs in the Co-op to hear Lynda Rooke going through The Shopping List. Melanie Greenwood draws a wonderfully rounded picture of a single mother on the edge of 40 whose son has left school and is off on a camping holiday to Cornwall with friends. She is shopping for his trip, and also for her few days of freedom. Will she take her mother’s advice to try internet dating before it is too late?
Funny, sad, hopeful, resigned, provocative, humdrum – these plays were beautiful little snapshots of ordinary lives, of the sort of people who were out shopping in Wells last Saturday.
Pictured are David Reakes in Prince Steve and Lynda Rooke in The Shopping List.