Reclaimed, Wassail Theatre at South Petherton and touring

IN the first few days of 2014 , the eyes of the world focussed on North Somer­set, where a number of remote villages were being engulfed by the rising water from the River Parrett and its tributaries and the courses that feed and underlie the Levels.

Photographs and news footage of the floods brought aid from all over the UK and further afield, but the Environment Agency, administratively responsible for the situation, was unable to hold back the water or to provide relief to the residents, many of whom were trapped for days and weeks.

Questions of blame have resounded ever since. Many locals call on historic knowledge of their area and demand dredging.

Theatre company Wassail, whose work is based in and inspired by Somerset, has created a new play, Reclaimed, devised in conjunction with residents of villages that suffered most in the floods. Set in the village hall of the fictional Newton Fitz­barrow, Reclaimed opened at Moorland and Fordgate, two communities in the centre of the flooding.

Several of the residents had contributed memories and information for the show, but some could not face a re-enactment, even a fictional one, that would re-kindle memories of those dreadful days and nights.

The second performance, in the comparative safety of the David Hall at South Petherton, illustrated just how cleverly the play has been created, balancing comedy mom­ents, mounting fear, real horror and that self-deprecating British humour that traditionally sees us through.

The hall has been booked as a “safe space” where residents can come and chat and drink tea, but there’s a double booking. Naomi from the EA arrives, announcing that she’s about to set up a Bronze Control area, at which all the relevant bodies (fire brigade, police, ambulance… ) will be represented.

Played in accelerated real time, the waters rise outside, Naomi realises she’s on her own, and the villagers rally round. The tension of the situation leads to unexpected revelations, rough talk, forgiveness and a real community spirit, and the audience gets swept in, too.

Lizzie Stables perfectly captures the cheerful, organising Charlie, chair of the Hall Committee, and Alys Metcalf is Naomi, whose pro­fessional detachment softens – almost breaks under the critical onslaught from volatile Tyler and desperate Colin – and then resurfaces in the course of the play. The two were together in Unearthed, written by Alys and performed by Lizzie, which toured the region.

Jac Husebo is Tyler, the village braggart, with Josh Marriott as Colin, the farmer whose property is most at risk, and Riz Meedin as Sikh charity worker Nitin, with Wassail’s Nick White in the facilitating role of Richard.

Director Jesse Briton and his versatile cast have discovered the ideal way to present this important, funny and thought-provoking play, involving the audience and evoking a sense of dread as the waters rise outside.

Do see it if you can.  ​The tour continues until 10th February. 


See Reclaimed at  Bridgwater Arts Centre on 25th January, West Coker Village Hall on 26th, Radstock Victoria Hall on 27th, All Saints Hall at Langport on 28th and Crowcombe Village Hall on Wednesday 31st January.  The tour continues in February at The Loco Klub at Bristol (1st), Chew Stoke Church School (2nd) Burrowbridge Village Hall (3rd),  Wells Little Theatre (4th), The Lord Nelson at Norton sub Hamdon (7th), Ashbrittle Village Hall​  (9th) and Taunton Brewhouse on 10th February.

Photographs by Paul Blakemore

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