Blog: Sarah McDonald-Hughes

The playwright on gathering stories from the community for a new play about Storm Desmond, which affected 55,000 people in Lancashire in December 2015

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When The Dukes asked me to write a play about Storm Desmond, I was excited – but apprehensive. So many aspects of the project chimed with my preoccupations as a writer: place, community and home are themes I constantly return to, and the idea of writing a piece inspired by the real experiences of local people appealed. But I was anxious, too – was there enough drama, enough story, in the storm to sustain a play?

The beginning of any project is always a bit of a step into the unknown, and this was definitely the case with Blackout. The director, Alex Summers, and I set out to meet with as many people as possible who had direct experience of Storm Desmond. We met a huge variety of people – a professor at Lancaster University, local business owners, residents who were flooded, a local care home, drop-in centres, youth workers, fire fighters, representatives from the council, police, coastguard and many more.

The stories we heard were fascinating and revelatory, telling tales of loss, community, displacement and family. It was a real privilege for us to meet so many people and to hear about their unique experiences. My worries about content faded. I knew that we had enough material – the question was which stories to tell, and how? How could we do justice to all of the voices and stories we’d heard?

At the centre was the story that had resonated the most: a girl, setting off on a long journey through the storm to find her mum

We knew we wanted to make a play that reflected this community, in this particular place, at this particular time. We held that at the front of our minds as we began to build the structure of what would become our play. At the centre was the story that had resonated with us the most: a girl, setting off on a long journey through the storm to find her mum.

Fast forward to now, and we are in our third week of rehearsals for Blackout, a play about family, home, displacement and change. The play is placed very firmly in Lancaster and Morecambe and is about, for and made with the people who live here. We’ve got two 19-strong ensemble companies made up of professional actors, young actors and community actors, who will perform the play on alternate nights in The Dukes’ fantastic Round Theatre.

I’m writing this from the front row of The Round, where I’ve just seen two brilliant young actors conjure Morecambe’s Stone Jetty out of the darkness. We’re at that midway point where we’re still feeling our way through the dark, but with the odd moment of blinding light, and the more of these moments we find, the more excited we get. I can’t wait to share this story with the people of Lancaster, Morecambe and beyond. I hope that it’ll be an illuminating and exciting show, and that our audiences will see something of themselves in the stories and worlds that they see onstage.

Blackout: Tales from Storm Desmond is at The Dukes, Lancaster, 13 Oct-3 Nov

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Interact: Responses to Blog: Sarah McDonald-Hughes

  • Joyce Bond
    16 Oct 2017 13:37
    I am one of 8 singers from Lancaster & District Choral Society who are delighted to have made the only musical contribution to this unique production. It is been , and continues to be, a wonderful experience. Congratulations to all involved !

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