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Etienne Cutmore-Kourouma and Juliet Grace are the stars of the show. © Alex Brattell

‘Quickening of the Heart’ from ExploreTheArch

Quickening of the Heart is the latest production from independent performance makers ExploreTheArch. Sam Davey went to see the production and is delighted to share her thoughts.

Always inventive, innovative, and a delight for the ears and eyes, this year’s Christmas exploration was no exception. Founded in 2015 by St Leonards resident Gail Borrow, ExploreTheArch is an inter-disciplinary collective of artists who work together to explore each project they undertake, creating unique pieces of work which actively invite the audience to participate and take their own steps on a creative journey.

The title of the piece is taken from WH Auden’s The Night Mail –  a poem written to provide the finale to John Grierson’s iconic documentary, made in 1936, about the Euston to Glasgow night-mail train and the postal workers who helped to transport five hundred million letters a year around Britain.

Musician and performer Juliet Grace © Alexander Brattell

It was a delight to be reminded by performers Juliet Grace and Etienne Cutmore-Kourouma of the wonderful words and rhythms of Auden’s much loved poem – but Quickening of the Heart is much more than a simple homage.

Rising to the challenge of providing a safe space for experiential theatre, during a pandemic and in the depths of winter, Gail Borrow and the ExploreTheArch team created a magical railway panorama in the gardens of Archer Lodge. Entering onto the station platform, the audience were provided with cups of tea and hot-water bottles before being shown to their seats in beautiful booths, tented against the elements and illuminated by small, twinkling lights.

This was Etienne Cutmore-Kourouma’s first performance for ExploreTheArch © Alexander Brattell

As always with an ExploreTheArch production, playful inventiveness plays a huge part in creating an experience that absorbs and enchants the audience. A window suddenly becomes a signal box, sending an engine chugging along the overhead lines to its destination. A locomotive is created out of cardboard boxes and used as a screen to project a short extract from the original documentary, whilst steam billows out across the garden.  A train set is suddenly set up to run all around the garden, with small trains valiantly making their way up hill and down dale, despite the buffeting of the elements. It has to be said that on my visit, the buffeting was fairly unrelenting, but we were all so snug and warm in our little booths that the wind and the rain-drops did nothing to mar anyone’s enjoyment.

Composers Juliet Grace and Frank Moon created a simple yet atmospheric score, which provided a satisfactory counterpoint to David Rowan’s updated narrative poem telling the story of today’s mail as it makes its way, outwards from Hastings and St Leonards to the wider world. Rowan’s poem also asked the audience to consider why so few of us write letters anymore – and challenged us to think if an email could ever promote the “quickening of the heart” that a letter can bring. This brings us to the central message of the production – the simple things that bring us joy, like a child playing with a wooden train set.

The full production team – Poorly Beetle, David Rowan, Etienne Cutmore-Kourouma, Juliet Grace, Frank Moon and Gail Borrow. © Alexander Brattell

After the last two years, I think we all have found it hard to maintain a sense of exploration. Our worlds have become more limited, predictable and restricted and I think that we are all looking for something to quicken our hearts.

To find out more about ExploreTheArch, visit their website  or click here for information about the 2022 Town Explores a Book festival – which this year features The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden.



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Posted 21:49 Wednesday, Jan 12, 2022 In: Performance

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