As part of the 2015 Staffordshire Hoard festival, Theresa Heskins wrote and directed Unearthed. The play has now been reimagined for online audiences as part of New Vic Theatre’s Hoard: Rediscovered, which revisits some of the festival’s pieces. This reimagining has been done with emphasis on character, fact, and story. The piece is a docu-drama that looks at the Staffordshire Hoard, a collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure found in 2009, examining its contents and impact.
Therese Heskins interviewed a selection of people all connected to the hoard. Instead of a conventional narrative piece, Heskins’ has created a series of verbatim performances of the answers these real life people gave her about the hoard, it’s meaning and discovery, and their part in it.
The actors recreate their real-life counterpart’s voice, movement, body language, and reactions, and these are used to tell the audience information. For example, the founder of the treasure, Terry Herbert, played by David Nellist, has a local Staffordshire accent, and this emphasises the importance of location; it plays a part in the meaning of the treasure and how it came to be there. Nellist also uses relaxed body language, whereas other characters such as the archaeologists, researchers, and museum staff, use formal body language that demonstrates that they are acting in a professional capacity; this is their job and their expertise.
Unearthed is filmed with the characters talking to the screen, as though the audience are the writer/director. Relationship between the characters is shown by their placement on the screen, such as one in the foreground, and one in the background, telling their side to the same story, as they were in the same place as each other in real life. In other scenes, the characters are in a row, but with a line between them, physicalising their differences in opinion. At times, a character may look in the direction of another character, showing the audience how they listened to each other to explore the hoard and it’s story.
Images of the hoard itself allow the audience to see what is being described. Full of mystery, the hoard almost becomes its own character. Black backgrounds are used to make the images and characters stand out, but only after the hoard’s discovery story has been told. Before that Nellist talks with a leafy green background, the site of the discovery.
Throughout Unearthed, the characters are trying to unravel the hoard, but in different ways; its story, who it belonged to, why it’s there. Others look at the physical details, what it’s made of. Others are led to its uses. These differences make for a rich and varied piece that grip the audience and take the piece from a documentary about the hoard, to a docu-drama about the impact of the hoard on people. The diverse mix of characters not only educate the audience about the hoard, but present an interesting look at the broadness of human character.
Main Image: Elizabeth Elvin and Adam Morris in Unearthed