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This project has involved the creation of a new online radio play, ‘Amid the Hills of Redesdale.‘ Written and directed by Northumberland writer Rachel Cochrane, its performance has involved bringing local people of all ages together to tell the fascinating story of Redesdale’s history.
The play tells the story of the beautiful and remote Northumberland valley of Redesdale from Roman times to present day, with its focus on the forgotten army of workers and their families who came from near and far to build the Catcleugh Reservoir. This community lived on the two banks of the River Rede (nicknamed Newcastle on the north bank and Gateshead on the south) in huts named ‘Black Houses’, so called because they were coated in tar to keep out the rain. Constructed between 1890 and 1905, the reservoir was commissioned to provide water to the booming population of industrial Tyneside.
Inspired by the artefacts and photographs left behind by those who were part of the Catcleugh story, the drama unfolds through a series of monologues, with characters telling their imagined stories of joy and tragedy against a backdrop of brutal hard work and danger. The play drew on extensive research carried out by Northumberland National Park volunteer, Tony Evans, author of ‘They Danced, They Drank and They Built a Reservoir.’ For several years, Tony led ‘Black House’ tours; the last remaining workers’ hut at Catcleugh. The play is also dedicated to the memory of Beryl Charlton, local author, historian and archaeologist, who played the part of Dorothy Temple in the play, and who sadly passed away in July 2021, shortly after recording.
Due to Covid restrictions and lockdown in March 2020, rehearsals were held online via video calls which not only helped the progression of the radio play and kept people safe, it also brought people together virtually and kept spirits high, in what was for many a lonely and difficult time.
The play was recorded in May 2021 at Elsdon Village Hall, with Covid safety measures in place; the young participants recorded their monologues from home.