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Here I Belong review at Leintwardine Community Centre – ‘intimate, affecting and quietly radical’

Beatrice Curnew and Nathalie Barclay in Here I Belong. Photo: Richard Stanton

By focussing on the life of one woman, Matt Hartley’s gentle, affecting play Here I Belong explores the changing nature of English village life over a 60-year period. It starts on the day of the coronation when the war is still fresh in people’s memories and Elsie is her late 20s and pregnant.

Hartley revisits Elise again at three other key points in her life as loved ones die, and governments come and go. As she gets older the question arises of how long she can stay in the village she has lived in for much of her life.. As the younger generation is priced out, there are fewer local jobs, and even the bus service is cut, who will look after her?

Hartley’s play manages to explore this and other issues without feeling didactic. He’s good at playing with expectations – the character of Scarlett, a banker’s wife from London who’s recently moved into “the Big House”, feels initially like a stereotype but the writing is richer than that. Elsie is beautifully played by Beatrice Curnew. She manages to convincingly age over half a century over the course of the play, while Nathalie Barclay skilfully plays a number of different characters.

Pentabus’ wonderfully adaptable production has been designed to tour village halls. It seats the audience at tables around the room and has the actors move among them, making for a warm, intimate experience. This is artistic director Elizabeth Freestone’s last production before she leaves the company, and it’s fitting a swansong, a piece about community and continuity that is radical in its own quiet way, arguing that inter-generational enmity helps no one and that the more people care for and support one another, the stronger they become.

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Intimate, affecting and quietly radical village hall theatre