The Vodka Hunters, Wickham Road, Boscombe as part of BEAF

IN a dilapidated former health service supplies depot behind Pokesdown Station, the BEAF festival 2108 took flight with The Vodka Hunters.

The site-specific show – four solo plays directed by playwright and novelist Nell Leyshon and devised by her and the performers – is about parenthood, seen from the eyes of “outsiders”.

Boscombe has been a nationwide magnet for rehabilitation centres and their users for many years, light years away from its time as a genteel seaside suburb of Bournemouth.  In 2012 a police chief was quoted as saying more than 60 rehab units were situation in Boscombe, which had a reputation for sirens, unsafe public spaces, boarded-up shops and general despair.

Now a burgeoning  arts scene – hence the centering of Bourne­mouth Emerging Arts Fringe in the area – Boscombe has a new vibrancy and hope, and many of its residents have come through their darkest hours with the houses, flats and shops.

Somerset-born Nell Leyshon has lived in Bournemouth for many years, and for the past 17 has worked with theatre companies at the edge of the centre, notably Vita Nova, which brought theatre to recovering users and addicts.

These “outsiders” have discovered self-respect and hope, and in The Vodka Hunters they tell their stories, or maybe amalgamations of the stories of their companions and friends.

There is no sentimentality in their accounts, and while they include dramatic shocks, their chief effect is to tear away the blinkers of easy judgements and comfortable ignorance.

The women, Jane Cartwright and Cecilia Gail, talk about the loss of their children as a result of their addictions.  For the men, Gary Pierre and Scott Lavene, it is redemption found through becoming the good fathers they never had. All have suffered violence, neglect, bereavement, bewilderment.

Each has a different, powerful, story. Each has dealt with live in his or her own way.

One is now an accomplished workshop leader and a writer of rhythmic rap-sody. One is a musician and composer regaining reputation. One is finding a way through despair. One is waiting to rekindle lost relationships and regain lost time.

The Vodka Hunters is Nell Ley­shon’s first attempt at directing. She says she couldn’t have asked for better performers.

There is one more performance on Sunday 29th April.  It’s a perception-changing experience.


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