Friday, 20 March 2015

21st and 22nd March 2015 - Evil Company

Evil Company - an historical radio drama

Today's programme is a departure from the normal classical music-based programme. Instead we have an historical radio drama, produced by the Somer Valley Classical Break team. It includes a 15 minute interview with the play's writer, bath-based journalist, Paul Fisher and members of the Trowbridge Players - the play's cast, followed by the play itself.

About the play
   Thomas Helliker's tomb in the churchyard of St. James's Church, Trowbridge
Evil Company is based on the life of local hero Thomas Helliker, also known as ‘The Trowbridge Martyr’.
The action takes place around Trowbridge and Beckington and it concerns events that led to the tragic death of a young Trowbridge cloth worker, hanged on the flimsiest of evidence for his alleged involvement in the burning of Littleton Mill, near Trowbridge on the 22nd July 1802.
The entire production was put together by local people. The play's director, ex-Somer Valley FM staff member Rupert Kirkham, says, 'We were extremely lucky to discover that Trowbridge has a fine amateur dramatic company, the Trowbridge Players. We were able to cast almost the entire company with Trowbridge people which fulfilled our aim to keep the play a truly local experience from start to finish.’
Christopher Brown, the former rector of St James’ Parish Church, plays John Rees Mogg, the curate of St James’ who had buried 19-year-old Helliker 200 years earlier in March 1803; Frank Holmes, who has spent a career in the local textile industry, teamed up with his daughter Emma to play a nineteenth century father and daughter; The part of Thomas Helliker was played by Bath student, Kit Harrison. The remainder of the Trowbridge Players cast acted  the other 14 characters. Even some of the sound effects were produced locally by cast-member Tony Giddings who made a special recording of the bells of St James' Church in the centre of the town for use several times in the story.
 WANTED poster, quoted at the start of the play
 The radio drama was written by Bath-based playwright Paul Fisher, “Inspiration for the script came after a visit to Helliker's grave in St James’ churchyard. His table-top tomb is unusual in having two inscriptions, the first written in 1803 and the second over 70 years later. The latter records that ‘Thomas Helliker was condemned for an offence against the law, of which he was afterwards believed innocent and determined rather to die than give testimony which would have saved his own life, but forfeited the lives of others’.” 
Neither inscription reveals that Helliker was hanged as a common criminal, or why his grave is so prominent, or why seven decades passed before a second in memoriam.
“It's a salutary tale of corruption, frustration and tragedy in the face of new technology,” says Paul, “200 years later, it’s still completely relevant!”.
The letter Thomas Helliker wrote the night before his execution
The first airing of the new play was at an exhibition in the Trowbridge Museum in June. “We hope the play added extra interest and reality to the exhibition”, says the museum’s curator, Clare Lyall. “We often get parties of school students and community groups looking at the exhibitions here and we felt that since the play was based on the man behind the exhibition, Thomas Helliker, it should be used to enhance the visitor's experience”.
The hanging of Thomas Helliker, March 1803
We’d love to hear any reactions, good or bad, that you may have about the production – just email me,
Some of the cast at Somer Valley FM

The Cast
Kit Harrison Thomas Helliker                                      
Emma Holmes Mary May 1802
Christopher Brown John Rees Mogg                                         
Tony Giddings John Jones
Sylvia Seaman Mary May 1873
David Powell Henry King
Francis Holmes James May                                                         
Mark Rhodes John Read
Barry Culverhouse Nathaniel Draper
Claire Powell Jane Beaven
Cast members played the rest of the parts.
Thanks to the Trowbridge Players.

Directed and edited by Rupert Kirkham.
Location sound effects Tony Giddings
Written and produced by Paul Fisher

Evil Company is a FROMEDIA production for Somer Valley FM.
Links to items about Thomas Helliker: