“It’s a spell we’re trying to weave to make a magical show.”

“So then we go right, and gallop. Left turn, up and over, then knee over the left and then lunge.”

Co-director James Doyle-Roberts and I are in the wings of the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield watching rehearsals for next week’s performances of Savage Hart. “How would you describe the plot in two sentences?” I ask, cheekily.

“It’s a story about a bad man who’s brought to redemption through being haunted by spirits that come alive in his house,” James says. “His wife is manipulated by the spirits to help him. Ultimately it’s a tale of redemption.”

“So there’s a happy ending?” I ask, watching the four performers canter around the stage.

“I’m going to let you work that out for yourself.”

Next week James and the rest of the Citrus Arts cast, musicians and crew move to the grounds of Oakwell Hall near Birstall in preparation for three evenings of outdoor performances of their redemption tale. In a Creative Scene production, it will be the first time the full version of their acclaimed show is performed in the open.

Their story is set in the 18th-century Hafod Estate in west Wales where, they imagine, the stags heads adorning wood-panelled walls come alive to spook the domineering master of the house.

“Savage Hart celebrates the beauty of the natural world so performing it outside will be very special,” enthuses James. “There’s something about asking the audience to share that experience with you. And Oakwell Hall is a place that just fires the imagination.”

Judging by the reviews Citrus Arts brilliantly combines circus skills, theatre and drama in a show that was originally conceived by James’ co-director and wife, Bridie.

It was her childhood memories of playing amongst the overgrown gardens and crumbling masonry of the now derelict Haford Estate that inspired the magical, haunting storyline.

“It takes a certain level of rigour for us to get where we want to be for a show like this,” explains James. “When the show starts we have seven people – five performers and two musicians – working closely together for 60 minutes.”

Led by associate director Hannah Darby, who plays the doe spirit, the performers are now running through a sequence with two of the deer heads that they’ll wear during the show. Created by felt artist Gladys Paulus, the beautifully-crafted masks add yet another challenge.

“Once they have the masks on,” explains James, “they’re pretty much blind so have to learn all their moves instinctively. Part of the show includes a five-minute trapeze routine which is even more amazing to watch considering they can’t see what they’re doing.”

“And what’s been your biggest challenge?” I ask James.

He laughs and puts a hand to his forehead. “I remember when we were first taken to Oakwell by Nancy [director of Creative Scene] who asked if we’d like to stage the show there. We were very excited and immediately said yes.

“On Monday we go down to build the stage and the aerial rig. Suddenly you’re wondering whether it will all fit. That’s my challenge. But it will fit. We’ll spend a day in the rain – it’s forecast to be wet – to make it fit.

“And as someone who used to be a circus performer I will inevitably end up swinging a sledgehammer at some point.”

“Okay, I think we’ve got that now,” I hear Hannah say from the middle of the stage, “shall we do it all again from the top?”

Want to see how it ends? Pack a picnic for Savage Hart at Oakwell Hall, Nutter Lane, Birstall. 20th-22nd July. Tickets here.

“I’m a Southerner, from South Yorkshire.”

“We did The Navigation Tavern in Mirfield last night and they were lovely… all on board from the off,” says Becca as she plasters on yellow make-up in the back room. “I’ve forgotten my brush so I’m having to use my finger.”

The second leg of It’s Your Round – where Becca Morden plays quiz mistress-cum-pub landlady – kicks off in half an hour at The Leggers Inn on the banks of the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal in Dewsbury.

“It’s basically a theatrical pub quiz with big daft characters,” she says, now doing her lashes.

As artistic director of Scary Little Girls, Becca has been splashing on the yellow make-up for a little while now. “We’ve done a pub tour of the show down south,” she tells me, “and adapted it for a library tour. Each time we tweak it to fit the venue. There’ll be some tricky questions about Dewsbury tonight.”

Creative Scene’s ‘The Local’ has been running for a couple of years now, touring pubs in West Yorkshire and building audiences along the way. The Leggers is one of two new venues on the circuit but the performances are well known to pub manager Joel.

“I used to work at the Old Turk in town,” he says, from behind the bar, “and we had Early Doors play there which the locals still talk about. Anything that brings new people into the pub has got to be a good thing.”

“Are you playing tonight?” I ask as the bar begins to fill.

“Yeah,” he says, “I’ve got my team all sorted.”

Becca is now in character and introducing herself to a table of three older woman and one older bloke, all unsure of what to expect but up for a fun evening.

“What have you chosen as your team name?” she asks as she steadies her beehive.

“‘Stuart’s Harem’,” splutters one of the women to a chorus of laughter.

“Oh, he wishes, does he?” retorts Becca, in her ‘Bet Lynch’ persona, “Let him dream, eh?”

“That’s all I do nowadays,” jokes Stuart to even more hysterics.

The room is now bulging and late entries huddle around the covered pool table. “Hello Dewsbury,” declares Becca. “My name is Pat Pinch and I come from a lovely pub called The Rhubarb and Ferret. I’m a Southerner, from South Yorkshire.”

‘Pat’ introduces the format of the quiz and sets out a few ground rules. “I’m going to be really strict,” she says, tongue firmly in cheek. “I don’t what to see any smart phones – although I think there are a few teams here who haven’t quite caught up with smart phones.

“But there’s no point in cheating because the prizes are shit. It’s simply not worth it.”

There are questions on general knowledge, films and a surprise music round. The local questions get heads scratching, and there’s even a round that, as Pat puts it, requires the keenest of taste buds.

After hoots of laughter and plenty of banter back and forth, there’s a break as the scores are totted up.

“How did you find it?” I ask Stuart and his ‘harem’.

“We did all right with the music ones,” they say, still chuckling.

“And are you pleased you came along?”

“Oh yes,” they say in unison, “it’s been good fun.”

Pat is on the microphone again. “Okay, the scores are in, are you ready? Oh, blimey, it’s very close…”

It’s Your Round continues for the rest of the week at:
Mill Valley Brewery Tap, Cleckheaton on Thursday, 13 July at 7.30pm.
Roberttown Community Centre, Liversedge on Saturday, 15th July at 7.30pm.

“We’re going to have a pearl of a Festival.”

“Would you like to have a go?” Helen asks the curious schoolboy on his way into Tesco after school.

He and his mum approach our table in the Cleckheaton store’s foyer and 12-year-old Kane takes a brush, dips it into the palette and paints onto the silk.

As artist Helen Thomas offers encouragement I explain to his mum: “These paintings will go on 30 ten-foot banners that’ll be all around the town for Folk Festival weekend.”

“Nice,” she says, enthusiastically. “We’ll have to look out for them.”

Now in its 30th year, the Cleckheaton Folk Festival is well established on the national folk calendar. Over the last three years Creative Scene has supported a programme of arts activity that encourages more local participation.

Last year I reported on the amazing dance and vocal workshops that culminated in a local dance troupe and a community choir performing on stage with the acclaimed Demon Barbers.

This year Wakefield-based Edgelands Arts has devised a new project involving a ten-foot heron. “We’ve performed at the festival in previous years,” explains artist Tony Wade, “and when the opportunity to create artwork with local people came up, we leapt at the chance.

“In the years since we’ve stopped performing so much, we’ve been working more with communities, so this fitted nicely.”

Edgelands’ heron puppet will appear at the festival parade on Saturday morning and, with an ‘ornithologist’ in tow, will guide people on a tour of its feather banners scattered around the town.

“The banners will feature the silk painting we’ve been making in these workshops,” says Tony as a couple of teenage girls stop and have a go. “We’re painting historical scenes from the town as well as the festival venues…”

“Is this one?” I ask, pointing out an image of The Battered Haddock chippy.

“Apparently so,” says Tony.

Tesco is busy this evening: people on their way home from work, lanyards flaying; parents with their kids, dashing to get something for their tea.

Tony’s colleague Helen says hello to pretty much everyone who passes our table. “Would you like a try?” she asks a older gentlemen, steadfasting grasping his trolley. “Just one dab?”

“Why are you painting on silk?” I ask, “if they end up being scanned anyway?”

“It’s a quick and easy process,” says Tony. “A lot of people are unsure of their drawing skills but it’s easy to paint onto silk and achieve some very vibrant colours. In two hours even the least confident can produce a wonderful painting.”

Already Tony and Helen have worked with primary schoolkids at Howard Park School and with a group at St John’s Church. Next week they are off to Matthew’s Coffee House on Market Street.

“People who haven’t painted for years have said they’ve found the process inspiring and really calming,” says Helen. “We’re going to have lots of material for the banners.”

Amongst the shoppers Cleckheaton Folk Festival organisers Dave and Janice pitch up to take a look.

Dave tells me he’s been involved in the Festival for 15 years, the last ten as Festival Director. “And this year is the 30th anniversary,” I say.

“And we’re going to have a ‘pearl’ of a festival,” he says with a smile.

“Tell me about Creative Scene’s involvement. How useful has that been?”

“We’ve worked with Creative Scene for the past three years and it’s been really good. They’ve helped us publicise the event and get local people involved which is what they’re about.

“They’ve been really supportive and we’re pleased to have them on board again.”

“Are you having a go?” I ask, nodding towards the silk painting.

“I haven’t yet, but I think I will.”

Standing in someone else’s shoes

… continued from Parveen makes a discovery

They share their office block with the Open University, a theatre and a cinema – Despicable Me 3 is showing this week.

Stanka Parać, the head of Subotica’s Local Democracy Agency, welcomes us for our final session with our hosts and members of the Roma community.

While craft materials are laid out on the table I ask Miloš what he thought of the previous day. “It was very inspiring,” he says genuinely. “It wasn’t just talking. You could see actual objects which helped visualise what you were learning. There were no dry words.”

“We’d like you to think of the characters from the stories you heard yesterday,” begins Kim once the group is settled. “And to make a small figure for us to hold in our hands and think about a message they might give us.”

There’s barely elbow room around the table which adds an intimacy of cooperation as scissors, tape and balls of wool are passed around.

“Who are you making?” I ask as I walk around the table with my tape recorder.

“I’m making Muhamet,” says Filip. “His story from yesterday really inspired me.”

“My grandmother,” says Rejhana.

“I’m making my grandfather,” says Miloš.

“Who are you making Dušica?”

“I’m not sure yet,” she says. “I think it may be an older woman I know of who survived Auschwitz.”

Half an hour later a dozen or more small figures from wooden clothes pegs, wire and scraps of material are complete. “And now attach a message that your figure might have for us all,” says Kim.

After the final messages have been shared Chris and Kim bring the session, and our trip, to a close by outlining the next steps.

Our visit here is just the beginning,” says Chris. “We’re inviting participants from each of the countries we’ve visited – Poland, Italy and Serbia – to come to Yorkshire in October. We’ll share our stories and create new work together.

“And then we’ll ask you to come back again in January – all your costs will be met – so we can present our creative work at Holocaust Memorial Day. The international theme this next year is the power of words.”

It’s been tiring but hugely rewarding for our small team this week. Early tomorrow we set off back across the border to fly home from Budapest. As we walk back to our hotel – in the hope the water is now back on – I ask Joanne and Parveen to reflect on the last week.

“I knew I’d be out of my comfort zone,” says Joanne, “but it’s been a real privilege to meet  new people and hear some very personal stories. I like to think I’ve got a good sense of justice, and this has made me more aware of everything that’s still going on in the world.”

“And we’ve been reflecting on things together, haven’t we?” says Parveen. “It’s been good to have someone to share it all with.

“As well as discovering my own connection with the Roma community I’ll take away something that Stanka said to us today. She talked about integration versus interaction.”

“What did she mean?” I ask.

“When a host community welcomes newcomers they expect them to assimilate into that community,” explains Parveen. “Whereas perhaps what we should aspire to is an exchange of ideas and cultures between us that we all benefit from.”

“And what memory will stay with you, Joanne?”

“Yesterday Sanja’s daughter drew me a picture. On it she’d written the word, love. For me that crystallised everything we’ve been talking about. If our young people will keep that feeling of love that’s all we need isn’t it?

“Perfect,” I say.

Parveen makes a discovery

continued from Spreading a creative response to oppression across Europe

There’s consternation in the hotel this morning. The water supply for the whole city is to be switched off this evening until 6pm tomorrow for emergency repairs. Not everyone in our group is happy.

Today the market next to the Roma office is buzzing. We’ve arrived a little early for our workshop so we can take a look. Joanne goes in search of dry shampoo but comes back with chocolate.

Our session kicks off with a short talk from Stevan about the work of the Edukatiuni Centrar Roma, supporting and advocating for the local Roma community. “To make change we need to partner with other mainstream organisations,” he says.

“We’d like to show you some of the work we’ve been doing in Yorkshire,” says Chris, preparing his laptop, “and then tell you some snippets of the stories we’ve heard from survivors who live in our community.”

The lights are switched off. “The film you’re about to see shows some giant puppets that me and Joanne and her daughter Iris helped to make,” says Parveen. “Next year we’ll be working with the Hungarian community in Kirklees to make a Hungarian Roma figure.”

We watch the Holocaust Memorial Day event from last January where local schoolchildren work with survivors to re-enact their stories.

“How did the young people react?” asks Filip as the credits fade.

“Very positively,” says Kim. “They knew nothing of the issues and wept when they heard Fatima’s first hand account of gassing in Iraq. They asked her what they could do, how they could make a difference. ‘Just tell my story to others,’ she told them.”

At lunch Parveen helps Rejhana and Nada prepare an impressive spread of salads, fruit and traditional pita pastry.

“I’ve just made a discovery,” Parveen tells me as we’re eating. “I’ve learnt that the Roma migrated originally from India over 2,000 years ago.

“Rejhana showed me a video on her phone. She dances to the same songs that we do and she loves the same Bollywood actors as us! The style of dancing and the dress is so similar… I hadn’t made that connection before.”

“This afternoon we’d like to hear some of your own stories,” says Parveen after our food, “but first we’ll have a little warm-up exercise. When you’re handed this ball of ribbon tell us your name and why your parents gave you that name.”

Everyone forms a circle apart, that is, from Sanja’s ten-year-old daughter who prefers to draw, but is taking it all in. Soon everyone is connected with a criss cross of green ribbon. And again simple creativity reinforces a message.

Muhamet is the first to volunteer to tell his story. He tells of fleeing Kosova with his family in June 1999. Translated by Filip, he recounts an exodus to Montenegro, hoping to board a smugglers ship to take them to Italy, across the Adriatic Sea.

“He says they were living in parks and public spaces,” says Filip, “and, on the night they were due to board ship, the military arrived and moved them on, so they were unable to get to the port. They heard later that the ship sank that night and more than 200 people drowned. They would have been on that ship.”

Rejhana is next to share her family’s experiences of leaving Kosova when she was just ten. She and her siblings faced discrimination at their new school in Belgrade. They made no new friends. Eventually they settled in Subotica which was more welcoming. “You have to be positive,” she says, “and try not to rely on anyone.”

More creative activities follow – aspirations are written on paper ‘buttons’ and a collaborative poem is composed – and the whole time the message trickles down.

“It’s like we haven’t learnt anything,” says Filip. “In Serbia we learn one side of the story, in Croatia they learn another. In Bosnia there’s a third and in Kosovo a fourth. And in the UK they have their own version of our war. None of us know the truth.”

“This is not about what has happened in the past. It is happening right now,” says Dušica. “A lot of people are still dying. We know it’s wrong. Why is someone not doing something?”

The final story from Serbia is here.