A CENTURY-old poster of an improbable opera tour in North Devon and the discovery of a novel based on true events in a Cornish mining community in the 1880s have provided the inspiration for an exciting West Country project.
The background story and the genesis of an extraordinary new British independent film were outlined by Bill Scott, founder and artistic director of Cornwall’s Miracle Theatre and Jason Squibb, a regular Miracle performer, at a series of Artsreach events around Dorset last week.
The aim of the Tin preview evenings was to introduce Dorset audiences – who already know Miracle from many years of Artsreach winter village hall and summer open air tours – to this latest and most ambitious project from the company, which was founded 35 years ago.
Despite the appalling weather, there was a good audience in the Bow Room of the Exchange at Sturminster Newton to hear Bill Scott recount the history of Miracle, talk about their productions, from the early Cornish Miracle plays (from which the company takes its name), via Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, mock baroque opera and last year’s highly praised Waiting For Godot, to increasing use of digital media and now a full-length feature film.
The novel, Tin, tells the story of a bank scam practised on an unwitting visitor to a town where the tin mine is failing and the whole community’s future is at risk. But when copper is discovered, the bankers want to keep the money and set out to separate the hoodwinked investor from his supposedly worthless shares which are now worth a fortune.
The story by Richard Boynes, published in 1888, is based on a real incident in the mining community of St Just-in-Penwith, and the Consolidated Bank, which was at the heart of the scam, had all the copies seized and destroyed. (You can see the contemporary resonances here, can’t you?)
But about five escaped the bonfire and one made its way into the hands of Bill Scott, founder-director of Cornwall’s inventive and always entertaining Miracle Theatre Company.
Bill spotted the potential for a fascinating show, telling an important story of Cornwall’s industrial past. But when he remembered the 1911 poster he had seen at the Beaford Centre in North Devon, advertising a trio touring the region with a production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, (a grand opera requiring massive chorus and orchestra), an even more daring project began to take shape.
The introduction of a touring theatre company into the story of the mining community would allow the show to expand to include music, romance, melodrama, community involvement …
Bill had met Tim Yelland, education officer of English Touring Opera at the Exchange at Sturminster Newton, where Miracle were performing their baroque style production of Rumpelstiltskin.
Tin became a collaboration with ETO, involving singers, composer Russell Pascoe, who wrote a new Cornish carol and a drinking song, both with words by Bill Scott, and Tim Yelland rehearsing five community choirs.
Opera singer Ben Luxon came back to Cornwall to take part and in spring 2012 the music theatre adaptation of Tin toured to five venues in Devon and Cornwall, including the Hall for Cornwall in Truro.
The development of Tin the live show into Tin the film saw experienced screen actors Jenny Agutter (Sister Julienne in Call The Midwife) and Dudley Sutton (of Lovejoy and countless film and television roles) join Ben Luxon and the regular Miracle actors.
Bill showed sequences of “green screen” filming – the actors were filmed against a bland green background with the detailed one-12th scale sets added later (the same technology that was used in the quidditch scenes in Harry Potter).
Even by the low budget standards of the indie film scene, Tin is cheap – so far it has cost about £40,000, and although post-production editing and marketing will doubtless increase this figure, it remains a shoestring production by an inventive company that is using the oldest stagecraft traditions and the latest digital media to create a unique and exciting new West Country film.
We can’t wait to see the finished product!