Bryony Shanahan Leading Workshop on Gravesend

Bryony Shanahan Leading Workshop on Gravesend

 Yasmine Hassabu as Matoaka/ Pocahontas

Yasmine Hassabu as Matoaka/ Pocahontas

 Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

 Kieran Knowles and Bryony Shanahan

Kieran Knowles and Bryony Shanahan

 Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe), Yasmine Hassabu (Pocahontas) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

Daniel Foxsmith (John Rolfe), Yasmine Hassabu (Pocahontas) and Salvatore D'Aquilla (John Smith)

 Yasmine Hassabu as Pocahontas and Daniel Foxsmith as John Rolfe

Yasmine Hassabu as Pocahontas and Daniel Foxsmith as John Rolfe

 Salvatore D'Aquilla as John Smith

Salvatore D'Aquilla as John Smith

Four years ago, I had the idea to write a play about the life of Pocahontas. She died in Gravesend, Kent. I did not know this until I saw the statue of her there. I had no idea who she was, what she had done or how she had found herself in Kent. 

So I started reading. 

And reading, and reading.

Until I forgot that I was going to write a play and it appeared I was merely going to research one.

Then in Mid 2015 I got a kick of inspiration and got in touch with Mandy Hare at Gravesend Woodville and discussed my idea. She was brilliant, so positive and supportive, and we hatched a plan to get something together for the 400th commemorations, which was just beginning to be mooted by Gravesham council.

I spent the next 6 month wrestling with the play, hating it, liking it, hating it some more, I could never settle on scenes. It was too long, too short, too historical, too breezy. It was the hardest thing I had written. In fact I kept taking myself off and doing other things, avoiding the confrontation with Matoaka. Conveniently I then got the chance to go to New York, and whilst there I took myself off to cafes and devoted my mornings to writing the play. And it worked. I go to a draft (115 pages) which I could tolerate though I was aware it needed work.

In December I sent in an Arts Council Application for the project, knowing that without the funding our plans could not go ahead. By this time, I had spoken with other venues who might be interested in the story. Lincoln Drill Hall (Birthplace of John Smith), Norwich Arts Centre (Birth county of John Rolfe (originally from Heacham)) and Syon Park (Where the Rolfe's took rest whilst in London). London Theatre Workshop also very kindly offered their space to us for two readings for invited guests. It was all coming together.

In Mid January I found out that the application had been accepted and the ball started hurtling towards March. One week later I was in auditions with potential actresses. All of whom were brilliant, but best of all was Yasmine Hassabu who accepted the part and was in the rehearsal room five days later with Salvatore D'Aquilla, Daniel Foxsmith and Bryony Shanahan.

We read, re-read and cut to bits the play taking 20 pages of dead weight off it and then I set about re-writing/ moulding and working what we had into a cohesive narrative. We met again at the beginning of March at the Pleasance in London who kindly offered their space to us for two days rehearsing the script and working how we were going to stage this very simple reading of the play.

It is amazing to me how quickly good actors and directors can make something look so slick and defined.

And thats where we are. The first show takes place on Sunday evening at Kew Steam Museum an incredible place, with towering engines and cavenous rooms. We will perform the play to an invited audience of about 100 organised through Syon Park's Jason Debney, who again, has been so supportive of the work and I am eternally grateful that he took this chance off the back of an hurried email I sent him in summer 2016.

It has been amazing to develop the play with funding from Arts Council England which allowed me to have resources and people in rooms, a luxury I have not had before and something which made the writing/ re-wroking process so much easier.