Unique performance marks the 25th Anniversary of Laurie Lee’s death
- Credit: Alexis Knight
There was a standing ovation for a unique Laurie Lee performance, marking the 25th Anniversary of his death, at the new 500-seater grassed Amphitheatre at Berrybank Park on Friday, July 22, 2022.
Anton Lesser – best known for his roles as Qyburn in the HBO series Game of Thrones, as Thomas More in Wolf Hall, as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in The Crown – joined Charlie Hamblett, best known for Killing Eve, Around the World in 80 Days and The Secret Agent, for a unique and captivating performance of excerpts from Laurie Lee’s famous trilogy, interspersed with music from Orchestra of the Swan.
The setting, high on the Gloucestershire wold, couldn’t have been more perfect for a celebration of the life of Gloucestershire-born writer Laurie Lee. A weave of words and music told Laurie Lee’s extraordinary life story, using excerpts from his much-loved trilogy Cider with Rosie, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, and A Moment of War. The performance chronicled his childhood growing up in the idyllic Cotswolds village of Slad, the journey he made on foot through the towns and countryside of 1930s England, and his pilgrimage to Andulasia where he fought in the Spanish Civil war.
David LePage, director of the Orchestra of the Swan, devised a musical programme uniquely for this performance, that weaves around Lee’s writing, from the lush Gloucestershire countryside Lee made famous in Cider with Rosie, to the dry landscapes of Spain, via the music of Vaughan Williams, Walton, Holst, Elgar, Britten, Segovia and de Falla.
‘Laurie Lee was a fine natural musician,’ says David, ‘and he was intensely proud of Gloucestershire’s rich musical heritage: Gustav Holst, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams. I tracked down Gloucestershire folk songs, and it has been fascinating, moving from English pastoral music to Spanish rhythms, as Lee’s story darkens with the coming of the Spanish Civil War. In many ways, it is a haunting, and very moving, echo of what is playing out now in Europe.’
Artistic director Judy Reaves was part of the team that created The Amphitheatre, in memory of her mother, Janet Cockell, who loved the performing arts.
‘The Laurie Lee event is especially close to my heart,’ she says. ‘Everyone loves Cider with Rosie, and our words and music follow Laurie Lee through Cider and his other books, as he walks out of the Slad Valley one midsummer morning to walk to Spain, and ends up fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
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‘Laurie Lee can be very funny and very heart-breaking, and this event really captures that. We were delighted when Jessy Lee, Laurie Lee’s daughter, got in touch. She has been incredibly supportive, and is really excited that her father’s writing is being celebrated in our beautiful green Amphitheatre! My mother loved Laurie Lee, and when Keith, her partner, suggested we create the Amphitheatre, I knew the very first thing we wanted to do was an event to celebrate Laurie Lee – outdoors, in this beautiful setting, with words and music.’
The evening was introduced by local author Jamila Gavin, part of the team that has this year created the first ever Laurie Lee Prize for Writing, established under the umbrella of the Stroud Book Festival with the blessing of Laurie Lee’s family, and his literary estate.
Cotswolds Amphitheatre, Berrybank Park, Upper Oddington, GL56 0XW, tel: 01451 828115, amphitheatreberrybankpark.co.uk