‘Ladies That Dig’ is a comedy drama about friendship, green fingers and ultimately what it means to ‘grow’. We caught up with actor/musician Helen Longworth, co-creator of the show and composer of its music.

What are the origins of Ladies That Dig?

In 2018, a call was put out by The Dukes Theatre (Lancaster), Brewery Arts Centre (Kendal) and Theatre by The Lake (Keswick) for ideas for a new play based on the 555 bus route, which geographically links the three theatres. In response, our group of female theatre practitioners came together and successfully pitched its first play, ‘Ladies That Bus’. Thanks to these theatres and funding from Arts Council England, ‘Ladies That Bus’ was researched, written and performed in a highly successful tour in 2020. Due to its success, we decided to research our second play, ‘Ladies That Dig’.

Please tell us more about the research process.

In order to create a new play for theatre, the process often starts with ‘research and development’. This can take various forms; in our case it involved meeting as many people as we possibly could who were interested in any kind of ‘digging’. We met people on allotments and in community gardens and also those involved in archaeology, dry stone walling and metal detecting – even a female grave digger. Once we had talked to a wide range of participants, the four actors, and the writer, director and composer worked together for an intensive week to translate some of these stories into script and music. The resulting 40 minutes of work was presented to an audience at the end of the week as a work in progress and they gave us feedback.

Did you hear any stories that surprised you?

It’s amazing how often people begin with ‘I don’t think you’ll be interested in this, but …’ and go on to say something really incredible! This is one of the reasons that I love working from real stories, because there is often nothing so remarkable as the lives and accounts of real people. I think one of the places that sticks with me is the Growing Well centre in Sizergh near Kendal. This is a mental health charity, organic farm and training facility and does incredible work with people in the community who are struggling with depression and anxiety. We heard so often that a huge thing people get from growing/digging/archaeology is a sense of calm, peace and renewal and this will definitely be a thread throughout the play and its music.

Read the full interview in our 3rd edition THRIVE magazine https://foodfutures.org.uk/about-us/magazine/

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