The Vital Spark: A New Project

We’ve hinted at new things on the HIDden horizon. One of them is, on the surface, a big departure for us- but it’s very exciting. This is a new piece of drama, tentatively titled The Vital Spark. It’s the story of the life of Jenny Hill, the first woman to be recognised as a “comedienne”. Hill was a star of the late-Victorian music hall, who, like many performers since, combined humour, interesting characters, and a certain degree of social commentary.

Hill is the thesis subject of Lola Wingrove, a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol. I first heard Lola speak about women’s performance in music halls last year, and right away I knew there was a play in there waiting to happen. We chatted after her lecture about the idea of using her work on reviving Hill’s repertoire to create the basis for a play about the life of this remarkable Victorian performer. And now, in collaboration, we’re doing just that.

A new play… Victorians… on the surface, it’s quite different from what HIDden has done thus far. This project goes to the heart of our interests: a fascinating personality, and interesting story, and one that speaks to a specific aspect of the past, one that you might not know very well. Certainly it’s quite new to us! Moreover, it’s taking us all right back to the archives; there are no scripts left of Jenny Hill’s performances, and of course there is no film, so the challenge, to Lola as the writer and to the HIDden team in putting the production together, is to use original material to try to imagine what happened. As with our medieval productions, we know we’re not going to “authentically” “recreate” anything. What we’re hoping to do is to use the evidence that history has left us to create something new, something that will show you a bit of theatre history that you haven’t had the chance to see before.

Although we’re still in the early stages of this project, we’ve already learned quite a lot. In the weeks ahead we’ll have more interesting things to share with you: a bit about Jenny Hill and her life and times; the Victorian theatre; and just how we’re approaching the challenges of creating a new piece from historic documents. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together- it’s going to be an exciting journey!

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