The Last Woodwose (11-22 September Tour 2019)

A new play by Thea Smiley

“Brilliant. It had the true spirit of Wonderful Beast, great storytelling” – Audience member

The Last Woodwose sprang from the success of Smiley’s previous sell-out play for Wonderful Beast, Return of the Wildman. Inspired by local legends and symbolism, Smiley spins a tale of a wild woman: the last woodwose herself. A shapeshifter, both wild and human-like, she is strong yet maternal, mature yet vibrant, powerful yet endangered. Facing extinction, she tells the extraordinary story of her life through shapeshifting, storytelling and magic, and reveals the origin of the legendary Suffolk Green Children for a poignant fairy tale experience: the trademark of Wonderful Beast.

The production premiered in the HighTide Aldeburgh Festival in the magical woodland at Blackheath House by kind permission of Michael and Patty Hopkins.

“Oh, that was just the most wonderful experience, it was like being in a spell…incredible, moving, absolutely carried me away.” -  Audience member

It was followed by performances in  St John’s Church, Saxmundham and St Michael’s, Framlingham where ancient carvings of woodwoses abound on the fonts; Staverton Park with its magnificent ancient oak trees; Kaliwood, Holton where we were welcomed by Rachel Kellett and children from the Forest School in another dream-like setting and a stunning medieval barn in Brandeston by kind permission of Ffiona Lewis and Crispin Kelly.

The Programme

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Wonderful Beast - The Last Woodwose
Wonderful Beast - The Last Woodwose
Wonderful Beast - The Last Woodwose
Wonderful Beast - The Last Woodwose

woodwose, n. A wild man of the woods; a satyr, faun; a person dressed to represent such a being in a pageant. (Oxford English Dictionary)

From the playwright As the Wildman was a man of the sea, I decided that my new play would be about a wild woman of the woods, or woodwose, a creature from British and European folklore. I’d been keen to write an empowering part for a mature actress for some time, so I wanted the Woodwose to be strong and dignified, and to challenge traditional views of femininity and beauty. I was also interested in inverting the fairy tale idea of the forest as a threatening place, and in highlighting the environmental and ecological issues of deforestation and extinction. 

Like the Wildman, the Woodwose tells her story in language that has an essence of nature writing and poetry, and the piece merges drama, poetry, storytelling and music to create a cross-genre wildness…during my research I was fascinated to discover that I have been surrounded by woodwoses all my life, as they are carved on church fonts throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, and in Ludham church in Norfolk you can find a rare female woodwose. Thea Smiley 

“Wonderful. I have never seen anything like this” - Audience member

“I found the play very moving as it delved into themes of love, loss and parenthood. I was swept up in the emotions of the characters and came away thinking about a number of topics that I didn’t expect too. I think that’s a sign of a great play – one that can provide escapism yet be thought-provoking and fun at the same time. The Last Woodwose ticked all those boxes for me!” -  Georgia Watson seesuffolk.com

Credits

Writer: Thea Smiley
Director: Alys Kihl
Costume Designer: Jacky Linney
Movement Director: Anusha Subramanyam
Dramaturg: Martin Bonger
Blackwing Lighting: Torben Merriott
Lighting Technician: Lee Whittaker
Stage Manager: Zoë Wells
Assistant Stage Manager: Eleanor Beck
Project Manager: Becky Marshall-Potter
Marketing: Caz Slota
Programme Design: Silverlace Creatives
Assistant to the Artistic Director: Emma Close-Brooks

Cast

Illegal logger / Old Woodwose / Woodcutter / Dryad / Boy: Huw Brentnall
Illegal logger / Sprite / Girl: Rosalind Burt
Woodwose: Hilary Greatorex
Musician: Sylvia Hallett

“The cast were a group of three talented actors. All of them were terrific at their roles and it was very clever how two of the cast switched between embodying many different characters during the play, without ever making the plot seem confusing.” Georgia Watson - seesuffolk

Outreach

Two free performances of The Last Woodwose for all the children involved in the Woodwose project took place within the tour.

The Last Woodwose concluded a schools’ project with Wonderful Beast in partnership with the Association for Suffolk Museums. The project focused on the medieval woodwose carvings that appear prolifically on church fonts and porches in Suffolk. The children from eight Suffolk schools went on a cultural journey, visiting churches and museums finding out about the richness of their own local history, followed by drama and poetry workshops and storytelling from a real live woodwose! In addition, the ecology theme of the play took the primary and secondary children out of classrooms, into woodlands encouraging them to get creative and engage with the natural world.

Fabric printing sessions followed, inspired by the woodlands, with costume designer Jacky Linney, creating banners from each school for the production, adorned with ‘Lost Words’, inspired by the writing of Robert Macfarlane, whose glossary in Landmarks (Penguin, 2015) also contributed to the language of the play.

"I didn’t even know half those trees existed before we did this project" - primary school student

"The play was exciting and entertaining to watch" - primary school student.

Children's banners at Staverton Park performances.

Children’s banners at Staverton Park performances.

Notes from primary school pupil on church visit

Notes from primary school pupil on church visit

We would like to thank the following for their generous support for both the outreach project and the production and all the private donors and volunteers:

Cllr Russ Rainger (Leiston Locality Budget); Cllr Tony Goldson (Halesworth Locality Budget); The Barbara Whatmore Charitable Trust; The Marchus Charitable Trust; Scarfe Charitable Trust; Fitton Trust.

Funding