Hush Now returns!
We’re delighted to announce the return of Hush Now, a compelling piece of digital theatre from Hereford based theatre company Feral Productions.
Originally performed as a site-specific production across 9 different locations in Hereford in 2019, Hush Now has been adapted to be filmed live on stage and produced as a digital film that will premiere online in March 2021.
Hush Now aims to give voice and visibility to the unmarried women who experienced unexpected pregnancies and, consequently, were silenced, stigmatised and hidden away in mother and baby homes.
Mother and baby homes were established (typically by religious bodies) in the late 1800s with the aim of providing refuge to women who had become pregnant outside of wedlock. Premarital pregnancies were heavily stigmatised and, while some women bore and raised their illegitimate children, many were ushered into mother and baby homes to hide their pregnancies and escape shame, judgement and abuse.
The creative process of Hush Now began in 2019 with an extensive research element. Elizabeth Semper-O’Keefe was commissioned by Feral Productions to meticulously trawl through archives at Hereford Archive and Record Centre (HARC) who uncovered a vast array of documents and records relating to the women who passed through Herefordshire’s own mother and baby homes.
“Many, many people would not speak to us. Others would speak to us anonymously. Other people were free with their information once they understood that we were aiming to listen, not judge.”
It quickly became apparent that society’s treatment of the women was far worse than that which they received in the homes in Herefordshire. However, this was not always the case, with many women in other parts of the world facing judgement and emotional abuse from those who were supposed to be there to support and care for them.
The taboo, stigma and rejection that these women faced peaked in the 1950s and continued for another 40 years with the last home not closing its doors until 1998. The last Herefordshire home was still in operation until the late1980s.
In order to give a voice to the many women that were hidden away for over 100 years, Feral Productions Artistic Director, Estelle van Warmelo collaborated with Ledbury poet Sara-Jane Arbury to turn the archival research into a series of nine poems.
Each poem told the story of a different character, each being anonymised by the assignment of a name of a wild flower. The character’s stories, although based on research, are an amalgamation of several different women’s experiences and, due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, have been shaped using artistic licence.
“These stories are harrowing and, until now, have been hidden. But there’s a lot of positivity as well. As for the women who lived in the homes, some had better times than others,” said Estelle, “It was hard – it was definitely hard – but for some of them they were genuinely better off than they might have been. And there are some truly wonderful human stories about how they were looked after.”
While originally planning to revive Hush Now as a live theatre performance, Feral Productions are adapting the production to work as a piece of digital theatre due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.
Hush Now will be filmed live on The Courtyard’s Main House stage and premiered online for Hereford audiences on Saturday 13 March.
Feral will then be embarking on a digital tour that will see a locally tailored version of the film premiered in Wolverhampton, with local references, via the Newhampton Arts Centre later in the month.
The company are also collaborating with the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley as a core element of its Hidden Histories weekend. For this, Feral are taking the Hush Now cast to the museum itself and will film the nine songs in different locations around the venue. Each piece will be a stand-alone film that the museum will stream online and, when restrictions permit, project onto the walls of where they were originally filmed for visitors to enjoy as a more immersive experience.
Feral Productions are also delivering a participatory element to the Hush Now project. Creative Writing and Song Writing workshops are being hosted by Sara-Jane and Olivia and will use research into local mother and baby homes in each area (Wolverhampton and Dudley) as a stimulus to create poems and songs with participants. Keep an eye on the Feral Productions website, Facebook and Instagram for more information about these workshops, coming soon.
Coordinating the filming of a production like this has not been without its challenges and production manager Becky Brown has had to manage the logistics of the process while adhering to strict rules and regulations to keep the cast and crew safe.
“I have been working very closely with The Courtyard to ensure when Feral Productions enter the building we are following all government advice to keep both ourselves and the in house staff safe.” Says Becky, “We have agreed on a zoning system and extra temporary kitchen facilities are being put in place to help avoid congregation. We are also planning regular covid LFT testing, a heightened cleaning regime and measures to aid social distancing.”
The cast of the 2021 production of Hush Now includes local actors Alison Allan, Olivia Preye and Jenny-May While as well as Courtyard pantomime favourite, Madi MacMahon.
Hush Now will premiere on Saturday 13 March and ticket holders will have the opportunity to attend a post-show discussion with members of the cast and crew. Links to this will be sent in a confirmation email upon booking.