In March 2016 MED Theatre received a grant from Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots for an exciting 18 month project, The Hound of the Baskervilles and the Last Wolf on Dartmoor. Facilitated by MED Theatre’s creative practitioners, the project enabled young people to learn more about Dartmoor’s local history and ecology through the eyes of a long lost animal, the wolf, last sighted on Dartmoor in 1780, and the legends it provoked.
Dartmoor’s young people had the opportunity to take part in a series of creative projects, including the creation of a radio play, a stage play, part of a community play and a short film, all inspired by wolves, their role in Dartmoor’s past and the myths behind the Victorian detective story The Hound of the Baskervilles. Research began in the summer with field trips to Dartmeet and Castle Drogo, the locations of the last two wolf sightings, plus a visit further afield to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust in Berkshire. Trips to Buckfastleigh and Hound Tor gave the participants the chance to experience locations important for the creation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. A variety of arts workshops also accompanied the project, with opportunities for young people to learn new skills in physical theatre, radio, film, music, dance, sculpture and puppetry.
Though they are now extinct, wolves and wild dogs still live on in Dartmoor’s mythology, forming the inspiration Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Working alongside heritage professionals (including cultural environmentalist and historian Dr Tom Greeves), participants of The Hound of the Baskervilles and the Last Wolf on Dartmoor project gained a deeper insight into Dartmoor’s forgotten wildlife and its impact on our wider cultural heritage.
The young people involved received an inspirational visit from an animal behaviourist and wolf expert Kirsty Peake, and began to research the topic of re-wilding as well as the history of extinction of wolves on Dartmoor. In May we visited Pengelly Trust Centre and the tomb of the alleged 17th century vampire Richard Cabell and learnt about the mysteries related to his life and death. Some of us also took part in a weekend residential at Pixies Holt – near one of the possible sites where the last wolf on Dartmoor is said to have been killed. As well as grilling marshmallows by a camp fire, we began planning the radio play which explored the controversy around the writing of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
Thoughts from a young participant about their experience of The Howling – MED Theatre’s 2017 community play:
This year’s community play “The Howling” has just come to an end and I know I am writing on behalf of all the young company involved when I say that both the performing and making of the play was a blast! The feedback from audiences were hugely positive and we are all thrilled with all the performances that toured Dartmoor in last month.
I enjoyed putting forth ideas that I was passionate about – and then seeing them come to life in the script, and finally on stage. I know that I have gained a lot of valuable experience by performing with MED, and to be able to share and go through that experience with group members who are now my life-long friends is something special. The next output from our 18-month project will be a short film by our Young Company. All of us in MED Wild Nights Young Company now eagerly await this exciting and new part of the project and can’t wait to start the script writing process.
For more information about this project, please visit The Howling page.
The radio play, which explores controversies surrounding the writing of The Hound of the Baskervilles, times when wolves still roamed Dartmoor, and a seventeenth century vampire Richard Cabell, is the outcome of the young people’s thorough research which they have carried out with the help of MED Theatre’s facilitators throughout 2016. Listen to Wolf Whispers here.
The Last Wolf was shown for the first time to a public audience in conjunction with the young people’s play, Wolf’s End, on December 2nd and 3rd. It is now available on our YouTube page (see below) and has been met with great support and positive feedback from the local community.
‘I found it very powerful in a variety of ways. The teenagers speaking for themselves – scripted no doubt but nevertheless it came across as real life teenagers, short sharp utterances full of meaning, without all the adult paraphernalia we throw in. Then the wolf theme itself – from a scary story to a theme of man’s destruction of nature. And finally Dartmoor itself as a wild place in which strange things can and do happen.’ Vernon Reynolds, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Budongo Forest Project.
2nd and 3rd December – Moretonhampstead Parish Hall and Buckfast South Park Community Centre
“A big thank you to everyone who came along and supported our play, Wolf’s End. We have received fantastic feedback from our audiences and the cast have absolutely loved the opportunity to devise, rehearse, design, compose and perform the piece. What a great way to end our Heritage Lottery Funded project after so many months of hard work, research and fun!” Wild Nights Young Company.
On 8th July, five members of Wild Nights Young Company had the opportunity to perform in Exeter’s first dedicated youth arts festival, which was held over three nights in the historic, but burnt out walls, of Poltimore House.
The festival was set up by youth theatre company ‘The Young Pretenders’ and was called TYPify Festival. The 20 minute piece performed by Wild Nights, held in the old surgery at the back of Poltimore House, was devised over the previous week. It explored the theme of rewilding and the story of the last wolves to exist on Dartmoor; key features of Wild Nights’ current project.
Dance practitioner Rohanna Eade visited the MED Theatre studio and led a workshop for the participants in movement inspired by wolves.
In May 2017 the participants of the project visited the UK Wolf Conservation Trust centre in Berkshire. They were fortunate enough to be given talks by the staff at the Trust and film some of the scenes for ‘The Last Wolf’.
The resident wolves were fed in front of us and we even got a howling demontration!