Writer’s Note: The Fire on Beacon Hill

Poster: Marie-Louise Wohrle and Amber Covington

The Fire on Beacon Hill was not the play I planned to write for DDF. I was originally working on another idea I’d had for a while, a very different play with very different themes. But somewhere in this process something clicked, something shifted, and somehow within the space of two weeks I’d written an entirely new play.

According to local legend, Beacon Hill had has been the site for otherworldly rituals of witchcraft, the meeting point for mysterious covens and dark rites. More recently, however, the proverbial and literal torch has been taken up by a group of local girls, led by their Sister Superior Kyla in their own rituals about the eternal central fire. Tonight, they gather again, reconnecting after much time apart, rediscovering their newly separate selves.

Witches, I think, were the starting point. I have a real fascination with magic and witchcraft, and particularly the history of their revival, of the supposed rediscoveries of pagan belief. However unusually it may be viewed, it’s simply one type of faith among many, something we all have in one form or another, and I wanted to explore what might draw people to these unconventional beliefs. From this came the group of girls trying to get away from their small town and try something strange, exciting, and unknown, and soon I had the frame of the reunion upon the hill. But it was discovering and writing the characters that was my real pleasure.

As well as faith, I had a whole host of issues I wanted to explore with the play, including friendship and other relationships, love, change. Alongside this, I wanted to provide a greater exposure of queer and trans issues, sexual assault, things often sorely underrepresented on the Durham stage. So, arguably, when I set to forming my characters around these issues, they began as archetypes, stereotypes. But the more I worked on them, fleshed them out, the more they pushed away and resisted the classifications they’d begun in, challenging their own identities. Their defiance, their conflicts, their contradictions – these are things that made them seem more human.

Contradictions are, if anything, the central element of the play. Throughout I tried to create a conflict between the cosmic, mystical elements of ritual and the mundane ones, the ever-repeated greetings and conversations. The scene itself is a collision, between the past selves they were when last together, and the new people they have become since. Everyone feels the tension between the unchangeable past and the always-changing present, and I hope to show you, here, how it all unspools in these moments, for these people, around this same fire.

This production, as both my writing and directing debut in DST, has been an incredible process and I have an obscene number of people to thank. Along with me I have Grace, my fabulous co-Director, who I cannot thank enough for putting so much into my play. My cast of six are all fantastic, and seeing these people spun out of my brain brought to life so amazingly and fluently is a repeated delight. I must also thank the rest of my production team for all their hard work.

I must also thank the DDF 2019 exec, in particular Sophie Wright and Helena Trebichavska, for their ongoing support and guidance. To everyone who read and advised on the script, and to everyone who comes and supports the show, I stretch my heartfelt thanks to you too.

The Fire on Beacon Hill is part of Durham Drama Festival. It will be held as part of General Programme 3 on Thursday 7th February- Saturday 9th February, at 7.30pm in Caedmon Hall, Hild Bede.

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