Fresh, Organic and Free Range food for thought

After a hectic first night with a room of 7 year olds the Cinos finally fall silent and sleep

Italian adventures via goats, honey and young people

Some projects that you go into as a freelance practitioner are approached with a large degree of the unknown. In fact maybe most are. I must say I have never realised how much I take speaking the same language for granted. Usually the participants not only respond to the words you say but also to the intention and weight that you give to those words and which words you have chosen to use or not use. Well I have learned to appreciate this as this last two weeks I have been working with Italian youngsters from 6 to 14 years old, in Italy, with the aim of helping and improving their comprehension and use of English.

My initial approach involved building up very basic instructions and using my own physicality to give examples of what I was talking about. I soon came to realise that this is all very well if they want to communicate with an English mime artist who is chewing on a bag of toffees. As this isn’t what they want to be prepared for I then have to pass my voice along to someone else to translate. So one of my first actions was to essentially give up my voice (a bit dramatic maybe but in a metaphorical way). When I first worked with English teenagers I reveled in finding my voice as a facilitator, it was very liberating. Finding your voice with a group of passionately distracted 6 and 7 year old Italian kids is a whole different challenge.

A fork in the road I never thought about was: after spending many hours with the host Italian family I found myself thinking and talking in the same rhythm. As an actor and theatre maker it is vital that I pick up on people’s habits and rhythms but not that helpful when the main thing you are there to do is to speak like a native English person! So I have an Italian child asking me something in Italian, at least I think he’s asking me something, while trying to give instructions in English whilst stopping myself from speaking in an Italian accent like the 30 people around me! Add to this the brutal heat (of which I am certainly not complaining) and my head has truly learned the art of ‘spinning’.

I often find that spending an extended period around people speaking in another language does something to clear and calm the mind. You’re own words become precious and used with great care or precision. It can of course be frustrating that you didn’t pick Italian for GCSE and save up during your gap years to do an exchange program with an Italian family until you became fluent. But when you can’t be involved in every conversation it makes you really appreciate conversation as an art form and as a skill.

The view from the hill behind the house. A hot climb but well worth it. Beautiful.

In this part of Italy everyone knows each other. There are rural mountains and valleys with farms, vineyards, villages and tiny towns (that are somehow   cities). It’s been beautiful to watch these places celebrate summer and their community with mini festivals of music and feasts, surrounded by beautiful historic plazas and buildings. Once again my thoughts come back to my own roots in Cheshire. How fitting that while I am on the other side of Europe I start a Facebook page for a community project in Winsford, The Town Tellers.

After a local speciality of wild boar sausages cooked in local red wine (absolutely stunning!), the locals take to the outdoor dancefloor.
After a local speciality of wild boar sausages cooked in local red wine (absolutely stunning!), the locals take to the outdoor dancefloor.

We really are blessed in the UK for culture and the arts. We really need to make the most of it and preserve it. For me the best way to do this is to tell the stories that are buried amongst the local communities, just waiting to be told and shared. Making the page for The Town Tellers required profile and cover photos and I am fortunate to have access to the Red Lion’s collection of research on the area so I turned to that for some images. Every time I look through the archive of historical material I just can’t believe how many stories, images and people there must be just waiting to be unearthed. Not only that but the potential for staging well known stories on the historic and communal sites that have been through so many changes in the town. A lot of fresh, organic and free range food for thought.

A ten year old creates her vision of Alice for a take of Alice in Wonderland. The Italian kids were completely absorbed in the artistic craft activities.
A ten year old creates her vision of Alice for a take of Alice in Wonderland. The Italian kids were completely absorbed in the artistic craft activities.

Back in Italy the sun pours down over games of 4 square, volleyball, table tennis, grandmother’s footsteps and ‘Get the shoe’ as the older group (11-14) come for the second week. Gone are the passionate tales of “How I asked the gods to enable me to breathe underwater” and “In the olden times they made houses out of poo”. Now we have giddy fits at one of our volunteer’s likeness to Justin Beiber, the highest standards of fashion and lots of chewing gum! Where the younger ones battled shyness to try there English skills, this group have battles with their changing bodies and voices and lethargy thrown in to the mix. But then there are moments when some will reveal that they can say several sentences almost perfectly with no practice; this after having seemingly not understood even the most basic words on their own. Some might say that teaching teenagers is the same anywhere and in any language.

So are there any profound conclusions to be drawn after doing this camp, having also experienced other residential and shorter projects aimed at similar age groups?

Maybe one thing I can’t get away from. First of all this is a project based on a farm and in a rural location. We use drama, art and creative tasks alongside lots of physical and competitive group activities without the pressures of constant deadlines or the need to ‘end-game’. These projects already exist, there are people who want to run them, places that would benefit from hosting them and plenty of young people who would want to attend them. And I honestly believe that if there were more of them they could actually change the world a lot of people’s lives for the better! I take my hat off to those who run these kinds of projects and hope to be involved in far more of them in the future.

Ciao Bellas

Tom Barry from Bio Bruni, Montaldeo, Italy

Mid-Cheshire’s Midsummer Extravaganza!!

The dynamic, diverse & international festival season. By rivers, historical buildings and beautiful scenery. And that’s just in Winsford & Middlewich!

It says so much when BBC Radio DJ Mark Radcliffe gives his endorsement for the Folk & Boat Festival in Middlewich one month & is then on the box presenting coverage live at Glastonbury. So what else connects the world’s largest music festival with it’s distant cousin down in the Weaver Valley? Well I would say it’s the unique local identity. There are other festivals that are bigger and just as famous like Reading and Leeds and people who go seem to have a great time. But do they do anything for the place they call home or could they really be based in any large town or city in the country?

The FAB Festival takes you on a vibrant but quaint tour of the river and pubs of Middlewich. As you cross one of Cheshire’s busiest roads you are transported in to a folky underworld with boats, clothes from far off lands, complex miniature machinery of steam engines & cars and a photography display of even more of the areas best kept secret wonders. Then an impromptu band strike up on a well travelled barge complete with whistles, washboards and things that ‘twang’. The band are met by a unanimous thought of “I’m quite happy to stay here and watch these”. But the fun has only just begun for the streets are buzzing with the melodic echoes from pub doorways and a not so far off field with stalls of exotic food, clothes and beverages and music from folk to pop and back again.

Over in Winsford or should I say Over, in Winsford, saw in the St John’s Church 150th anniversary with a great summer street festival as Winsford’s trio of summer music feasts kicked off in style. Initially intended as a one off but The Delemere Street festival had a wonderful community feel that was as heart warming as it was sunny & bustling. Wincap looked for volunteers, classic cars were put on show, fairground rides whirled and the stages really did rock and roll! A real twist was the lovely tea rooms set up in St John’s Church. The church community worked wonders with fabulous tea and cake and local art work exhibited all over the church. A really bustling and friendly atmosphere that never ceased for the whole day. The local vicar George Crowder who spearheaded the dedicated group of local organisers should be very proud and I hope that after a rest the committee behind it feel the feat could be repeated. Our communities need events like this.

The same stellar line-up of both local and international musicians that graced the stages at the Delamere Street Festival were also on hand at the On The Fringe Festival. Another gloriously sunny day graced what is a stunning location for a festival. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who occasionally had to ask myself and those around me: “Can you believe this is Winsford?” And that isn’t to suggest Winsford isn’t capable of such things, it clearly is, but combined with the weather this felt like we’d been transported to some glamorous European city. Watching the likes of the multi award winning Africa Entsha, complete with rousing community choir (my mother included I might add) lead by the excellent Olly Bancroft, with the sun soaked flashes & waves of green trees as the backdrop, it was a highlight of the summer. Mark Curzon commented during his act how nice it was for the council to have provided the backdrop, it did feel unreal at times. This festival was costantly buzzing with the Academy and Mid-Cheshire students & stage constantly churning out rocking bands, dynamic dance routines and everything in between. Hats off to the academy and college staff who ignored the calls of a weekend off in the sunshine to support the creative madness in the scorching heat.
Golty Farabeau and company did full justice to Bob Marley’s most memorable hits, one of the highlights of all three aforementioned festivals and one to watch at the upcoming Off Cut Folk & Ale Festival, whatever guise they be in.
On the form of the local summer festivals so far, the next one promises to be yet another vivid glimpse into an exciting future for ‘The Weaver Valley’ aka Mid-Cheshire aka Winsford Middlewich & Northwich.
The Off Cut Folk & Ale Festival, built on the history of Winsford is on Sunday 21st July round the back of The Red Lion along the river.
This blog cannot begin to contain all the great stuff that’s been part of the local summer scene so far. I have only included some of my own highlights. Feel free to include your own and tell the world! The best way of making sure these events can keep going each year is to give them a look and tell people what you think in as many ways as possible! Share how good a time you have and make sure others don’t miss out.
Tom Barry
Community Theatre Maker
Born and brought up in Winsford

A fantastical journey into the community

Physical Folk.

A fantastical journey into the community via Shakespeare and the 1970s.


Over the last three months I directed Physical Folk’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Davenham Players’ Theatre. The show was a huge success and was also preceded by nearly two years of shows, workshops, networking and research in the area. Here are some thoughts on what went on and what lies ahead for our company and this community.


When I was first involved in the theatre scene in Mid-Cheshire around ten years ago there was a real buzz within the ‘am-dram’ circuit. Plenty of press coverage, fierce rivalries and at least a couple of annual awards events to celebrate the previous 12 months artistic achievements.

While I am not necessarily a big advocate of the rivalries and dishing out of awards as it can send out mixed messages, it did create publicity and allow societies and groups to build momentum. This momentum could be used to try new things and reach out for new members and audiences.


Ten or so years on, having returned to the area I can’t help but notice that the sun has shifted slightly and now shines far more brightly on Mid-Cheshire/Weaver Vale’s thriving music scene. The music scene is very deserving and it is a thrill to see it go from strength to strength. The larger and more established theatre groups do seem to have maintained their membership and audience numbers, but some smaller or more rural groups seem to have found life more of an uphill struggle.


When we arrived at Davenham Theatre for the first time back in 2011 we wanted to find something exciting and challenging particularly for the female members of the group. Who would have thought that within a couple of years we would be casting 15 people in a Shakespeare play with 10 of those being women (and mostly playing parts originally written for men!?).

It has been an absolute pleasure to bring in and develop Physical Folk with such an appreciative selection of people as those we have worked with at Davenham. With Ed Green and Tin Shed we first worked on material that was accessible and would capture the audience’s imagination. We have produced classical and contemporary work and made audiences laugh and cry.

I am delighted to say that all this work has culminated in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Shakespeare play that has filled the theatre every night, brought in new members, had rave reviews, allowed amateurs and professionals to work side by side and brought over 200 people from the community together. I must give real credit to those who took such brave steps during this project, either stepping into the community for the first time or being willing to try a lot of new things and challenge old habits.


So why are these community, amateur or ‘am-dram’ projects and productions so important?

I thought about this a lot during the run of this production. There are things that are obvious to all in attendance: the sense of community, people being challenged and learning new skills and so many people thoroughly enjoying a night of live theatre, and Shakespeare too! But there was something else that occurred to me that is rarely spoken about. We often talk of the ‘cutting edge’,’high end’ or ‘professional’ theatre in the cities like Manchester and London. But if it it wasn’t for groups like those in Davenham, Moulton, Northwich and across the country, then theatre in this country would eventually die. It would possibly last a few years but eventually the participants and audiences would run out, and without them there is nothing. This is something that should never be forgotten at any level or in any corner of our wonderful ‘industry’ we know as theatre.

Finally I thank the team at Davenham and Physical Folk for their wonderful work. Thank you for the laughs (there are always many), the music and for sharing your talents and skills.

“I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was”

Tom Barry

Artistic Director – Physical Folk