Lawless borderlands brought back to life thanks to new play from theatre company
The lawless 16th century borderlands will be brought back to life in theatres – and schools – thanks to an exciting initiative from an expanding Northern theatre company.
Elysium Theatre Company is bringing their original production of ‘Reiver – Tales from The Borders’ on a tour of the North throughout October.
Set in the 1500s, when Reivers ‘raiders’ terrorized the ungoverned Anglo-Scottish border, the play focuses on three characters, in three separate acts.
Written by Newcastle-based, Northumberland-born playwright Steve Byron, three interlocking stories – ‘Blackmail’, ‘Godforsaken Place’ and ‘The Widow’s Path’ – paint a portrait of a world not unlike our own, in which ordinary people stand up against corruption and injustice.
5 Oct – Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham
6-7 Oct – Assembly Rooms Theatre, Durham
11 Oct – Theatre@41, York
12 Oct – Ushaw House, Durham
13 Oct – Amerdale Hall, Arncliffe
19 Oct – Bishop Auckland Town Hall
20 Oct – Alnwick Playhouse
21 Oct – Alnwick Playhouse
24-26 Oct – Newcastle Keep
27 Oct – The Maltings, Berwick
28 Oct – Grey Village Hall, Sutton on the Forest
As part of the tour, Elysium is bringing a brand-new writing initiative to schools across Durham and Northumberland: ‘Reiver – Voices From The Borders’.
Thanks to funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund, Northumberland County Council and Durham University, Elysium will work on writing and creative arts projects with hundreds of pupils.
Schools will be invited to attend performances of the play, and to meet the cast. Elysium will also produce a series of podcasts dealing with Reiver and Traveller history, online versions of the ‘Reiver’ monologues and a resource pack for schools.
The project will culminate in an anthology of original, pupil-produced work set in the world of the Reivers, including prose, poetry and art.
Elysium also plans to produce two audio plays, written by pupils, which will be released online.
Elysium’s founder and Artistic Director, Jake Murray, said: “The Reivers are a massive part of the history of this part of the country, and the wider history not only of the country as a whole but America, Canada and Australia, and yet few people know about them.
“Reiver families gave us two Presidents of the US – Richard Nixon and Lyndon B Johnson – and the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong. They’ve gone to be footballers (the Charltons and the Robsons), retailers (the Fenwicks) and hoteliers (the Marriots). Most people here in the North East are descended from the Reivers but don’t know it.
“This is project which builds on our work with schools across Durham County and Northumberland, is all about giving the region its history back.
“The Reivers were larger than life in every way and once they’ve captured your imagination they don’t let go. We’re incredibly proud to be working with young people across both counties to bring this them to life.”
‘Reiver – Tales from The Borders’ is an original play, adapted from an Elysium-produced Monologue, ‘Blackmail’, that was recorded using social distancing during the first Covid-19 lockdown, in 2020.
After racking up thousands of views online, as part of a series of streamed monologues, Elysium decided to commission Steve Byron, writer of the initial monologue, to expand on his original work.
Steve, who has a passion for local history, ended up adding two further one-person stories, which came together with Blackmail to become ‘Reiver – Tales from The Borders’.
Blackmail: an innocent farmer is forced to take a stand against the bullying threats of a powerful Reiver family.
Godforsaken Place: a southern lawman exiled to the North by the corrupt London authorities tries to save a Reiver child from a terrible fate.
The Widow’s Path: a Scots woman sold into servitude as a child pursues the murderers of her husband, and will not rest until she has overturned the Reiver order to get her revenge.
A version of the play toured to a rapturous reception in November and December last year, and so, because of its success, the team at Elysium have decided to bring a brand-new production to new audiences.
It will star Matthew Howdon, Elaine MacNichol and Steven Stobbs.
Writer Steve Byron said: “I am thrilled that ‘Reiver’ has returned. The responses last year were overwhelming.
“I am excited for new audiences to see this new production, and now, with Elysium’s community workshops, explore and create exciting new tales set in the debatable lands.”
Schools involved in the ‘Reiver – Voices From The Borders’ project:
Bishop Berrington School – Bishop Auckland
Durham School – Durham
Framwellgate School – Durham
West Rainton Primary School – Traveller community
Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre
Haydon Bridge High School – Haydon Bridge
Tweedmouth Middle School – Berwick
For more information on Elysium, its work and history, see www.elysiumtc.co.uk.