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My impression (which could easily be wrong) was that the other pieces in the Place Prints series were written in lockdown, or at least recorded in lockdown. Here We Stay was recorded from a live performance in 2015.
It’s easy to see why this play was included in the series. It tells the story of a plague that spread through the village of Eyam, killing many of his residents, and what the other residents did to ensure they would survive.
It tells the story of a very different world from ours. There are no vaccines. No rules about masks or social distancing, though the description of the plague and how it spreads suggests both might have helped. No internet, with news updates at our fingertips. No ventilators. It makes me realise we’re actually quite lucky. It’s been a really terrible time and we know it’s not over yet and with all the advances in science, perhaps it’s right that we’re hoping for a better outcome but this play shows it could have been worse. That is has been worse.
Charlotte Cornwell, who I’m very sad to say died of cancer last month, takes the role of the plague. She describes the havoc wreaked and explains how she travels from one person to another, wiping out most of the village. Her voice is remorseless but not cold – there’s a feeling that the plague is enjoying this and relishing its power. It’s deeply unsettling and it’s supposed to be. Roy Castleton, Hayley Doherty, Jack Wilkinson and Anthony Wise also feature, describing some of what is happening in the village.
There is some very good acting in this. We quite often hear the sounds of people coughing and producing other sounds as they get closer and closer to death. Anyone who has issues with hearing that would maybe prefer not to listen to this Place Print. It is very realistic and could easily cause upset, especially if someone has lost someone close to them in this pandemic. It might actually be harder to listen to an audio drama than in a play, where there would usually be some visual clues. When all you’re doing is listening, it kind of comes out of nowhere a bit.
During Here We Stay, we hear all the names of the plague victims, one after another, along with their ages. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of relatively few children but this plague doesn’t discriminate, killing people of all ages. It is a shock at first to learn that whole families are dying, that children are dying. But the continued stream of names doesn’t really teach us anything new so some of its power fades a bit.
I think maybe the problem for me (and it might not be a problem at all for anyone else) is that Here to Stay is doing two things at once. Saying every single name is like a tribute to and an acknowledgement of every single person who died and that’s a really nice thing to do. But everything else, with the plague enjoying telling us about all the damage it causes and the sounds of people dying, that’s like we’re being told a story. A true story but a piece of drama for our entertainment. For me, at the time when I listened to it, the tribute and the story didn’t sit together completely comfortably.
But it really is a powerful piece of writing from David Rudkin. The descriptions of the plague are disquieting and the acting is disturbingly good. Definitely give it a go if you feel able to but maybe this is one to listen to with caution.