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Exciting play will have its premiere in Cockermouth

Chloe Harkness and Ashlin Evans, two of the actresses from West Cumbria who will appear in She’s In Floods, which premieres at Christ Church, Cockermouth, at 7.30pm on Friday 23 November.

An exciting theatre production shaped by young people’s experiences of the Cockermouth floods will be premiered in the town.

She’s In Floods is a new play, commissioned by the Cumbria Youth Alliance, produced by Rosehill Theatre and supported by the Big Lottery Fund.

With its main theme of resilience, it tells the story of a young girl, Carly, whose family is about to go through the nightmare of being flooded out of their home – and how they cope is up to the audience.

Devised from interviews and discussions with victims of the 2009 and 2015 Cockermouth floods, and community representatives who supported them, She’s In Floods uses the stimulating technique of forum theatre to help a talented group of young performers work with their audience as they consider the best ways of responding to, and coping with, adversity and emergency situations.

Directed by Toby Gaffney, of Cockermouth, the production involves a number of young people from the area, not just as actors but stage managers and technical support, and also features performances by Cockermouth School Choir.

Toby said: “I’ve been lucky to work with a very talented group on this project and I’ve conducted many research interviews with young people who were adversely affected by the floods of 2009 and 2015. Their input was invaluable in the creation of the show’s two major scenes.

“Forum theatre began in Brazil in the 1970s as a form of political empowerment for oppressed people. The point was to stop lecturing audiences and turn them into active participants, not by dragging them onto the stage or embarrassing them but by allowing them a chance to decide, sometimes individually and sometimes collectively, on the best course of action for the characters and thus encouraging them to feel empowered to think and act for themselves.

“We are using those same techniques, not politically but as a way of encouraging the audience to be a part of the problem-solving process and to actively consider the best course to take in emergency scenarios.

“Essentially the play poses the question, ‘What would you do under these circumstances and how can you help make this family’s journey as positive as possible?’. Most of the time it will be common sense that can help improve things and sometimes it is fascinating to hear someone’s personal experience and discover something new.”

The premiere takes place on Friday 23 November at Christ Church, Cockermouth, which was a community hub and support centre following the floods in the town.

Toby added: “Christ Church is a great space for this kind of work, with brilliant acoustics for the rain effects. And because it was used as a help centre during the floods in both 2009 and 2015 it was a natural, and obvious, choice.”

Rehearsals began in September, with the focus being not only on the scenes themselves but also developing the improvisational skills that the play demands of its cast.

“You need considerable resilience and confidence to go on stage knowing that the scenes will potentially be totally off-script and that you will be reliant on your fellow cast mates to keep the narrative going,” said Toby.

“Forum theatre is very different from many other shows and I would urge anyone who hasn’t tried it to get involved. It’s fascinating.”

As the production is supported by lottery funding, admission to the premiere at 7.30pm on 23 November is free. Donations will be welcome towards the ongoing support of victims of flooding in West Cumbria.

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