American Travelling Companions

It’s a dream team. People who I’ve met,who’ve  lodged themselves in my head and never leave. My party of virtual ‘journey across America’ travelling companions: Aggie, George, Harold, Joy, Nell, Sylvia, Clara, Ted . They all have names from another era.  They might have been contemporaries, children of the 1900s, people who lived through periods of change that are now almost impossible to imagine.

My obsession with mapping, for scrawling colour-coded lines between scribbled boxes, constantly trying to find out where I am; that’s George and Harold speaking.  The theatre director Ronald Eyre talked about the business of directing a piece of theatre being like going for a long walk in a deep forest. You have to constantly stop in clearings, have a cup of tea and work out precisely where you are.

Both Harold and George were natural storytellers. I made theatre with both of them when they were in their seventies and eighties. They grew up in very different places. George in docklands south east London, Rotherhithe and Harold in the tiny south Devon village of East Allington. Neither of them left their home communities for huge periods of time. Harold lived in London for six months when he was six and after returning home was always referred to as the ‘incomer’.  They both had the geography of their childhoods burnt into their memories. Harold running through fields on his way to school as a seven year old every morning: “opposite Norton Farm straight through that little bit of road jumping in over Kelland Park , down past Kelland Park, out over the gate down the bottom then over Long Cross and down Weir Bridge and up over the hill…”  The place names tumbling over each other as he conjured them up. George operated with more of a sly twinkle. His childhood was spent in and around the Thames negotiating the shore line between Wapping Reach and Tower Bridge: “We used to know where the thick parts of the mud was and where the thin parts was. We knew the driest parts, little bits where you could jump across, especially when the tide was out. We spent our life down there.”

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