Being more accustomed to talking with directors about upcoming productions, it made a pleasant change to catch up with Helen Jones, writer of The Barn Swallows, directed by Meg McFarlane and produced by Make It Write Productions, which performs at The Hope Street Theatre in March, an Old West mystery set in 1875 just after the American Civil War, where four characters – a stranger; a bounty hunter; a grieving widow; and a dysfunctional Sheriff – each haunted by their own demons, cross paths in a lawless town. Who will make it out alive?
I’m intrigued by the setting and Jones is keen to note she enjoys reading westerns but always felt let down by theatrical interpretations which tend to follow a stereotypical send-up. Jones clearly knows her stuff as she goes on to explain the research she has undertaken down to finding the very real setting – Fort Griffin, Texas – where she has been able to study the topography and environment to get a real image of the Old West in which to set her play. To ensure her characters are believable she created monologues for each of them to explain their back story and how they have got to this crossroads in their lives. Jones also adds that it was importance to capture the mood and feel of the time and again through extensive archive research of written records and diaries of the time, she has been able to capture authentic dialogue to complement the setting.
It is the creation of this believable world – rather than the all too familiar scripted patterns that plague modern pieces – that allows Jones the opportunity to explore issues that were as real then as they are to us now and challenge some of our preconceptions about not only the time and place but also ourselves as we come out of our comfort zone to enjoy an altogether different experience in this slice of the Old West.
Although she has previous in theatre – she worked as editor/researcher on the play of Twopence to Cross the Mersey and co-authored Lennon’s Banjo with Rob Fennah – she tells me this is her first full production. Having devoted much of her life to bringing up children and a successful career as an Advance Nurse Practitioner – she is also a trained hypnotherapist – Jones felt it was time to discover her own voice and following some writing workshops and courses over the last couple of years she has made leaps and bounds forward as she also has a couple of sketches for Write Up Your Street also being performed in March, and has just won the Woman’s category for Make it Write’s ‘Monsters’ production later in the year. She’s certainly come a long way from the little girl who set up a book club with friends in her street where they would sit and read their favourite stories to each other.
The Barn Swallows performs at The Hope Street Theatre from Wednesday 6th March through to Saturday 9th March with tickets available at https://goo.gl/mnvmLx
Jones is keen to emphasise the importance of pushing ourselves in life even if sometimes that means making a mistake or failing along the way. Ultimately that is the way we evolve and grow, and I couldn’t agree more: if you’re reading this and a little intrigued but thinking Westerns aren’t your usual thing or you’re just not sure – well hey, stop making excuses and take advantage of the opening night performance’s ‘Pay What You Think’ philosophy and ask yourself: what have I got to lose? Judging by what I’ve seen with Jones, you’ve got everything to gain.