Pupils play brings history to life at Tolpuddle

Performing Arts drama students from a Somerset school are bringing the Tolpuddle story to life at this month’s festival in the small Dorset village.

The students from Heathfield Community School in Taunton performed to packed audiences over three nights earlier in the year, and are performing highlights from the production, including "George Loveless" singing Tolpuddle Man at the 2016 Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival on Sunday July 17th.

Students from Heathfield Community School @ Private

Drama teacher and NUT member, Helen Elliott, launched this ambitious project with a group of 21 year 11 BTEC Acting students in September 2015 with a visit to Tolpuddle, the TUC Martyrs Museum and the Old Court at Dorchester Shire Hall.

Helen said:

The students, in their cast roles, explored Tolpuddle village and its unique history. The 'labourers' stood outside the Methodist chapel, 'James Hammett' visited his grave, 'Rev Warren' stood proprietorially in the doorway of St John's church, 'Thomas Standfield' at his own cottage and the six labourers, later martyrs, organised at the iconic sycamore tree where the student cast of 21 gathered, hands held around the tree to pledge the oath, “We raise the watchword liberty, We will, We will, We will be free”.

The cast then moved on to Dorchester Court where they visited the cold, unforgiving, holding cells and rehearsed, in situ, the court scene where the six labourers were sentenced to transportation for seven years to Australia on a trumped up charge of sedition for 'swearing an oath'."

Graham Padden, playwright of 'The Wrong End of the World', generously allowed the students to perform his version of the play - first performed at Salisbury Playhouse, and visited rehearsals over two days to offer support and advice.

Helen, supported by the school's performing arts team, enabled the students to develop their understanding of this important piece of social history.

Somerset school bring the Tolpuddle story to life @ Private

The production was supported by Thompsons Solicitors and regional unions including UNISON, UNITE, FBU, EQUITY, South West TUC, NASUWT and the NUT. Union branches loaned their banners to add colour to the production and many members attended.

Helen summed up by saying:

This has been much more than a school play. The learning experience of taking on such a challenging piece, understanding the Trade Union movement and the role of modern day trade unions - helped by a workshop run by colleagues from UNISON South West, has given the students a valuable insight in to how extraordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.

This is education at its richest."