When the doors opened to Verdant Works in 1833 and the weavers first began to produce Dundee’s famous jute, I wonder if any of those workers would imagine what would happen on those cobbles nearly 200 years later. Did anyone at that point think their lives, their work, their produce would provide inspiration to a collection of Dundonian teenagers to create a show full of dance, puppetry and drama. Because that’s exactly what happened. And Tortoise in a Nutshell got to be part of it.
The show was created by young performers working with ourselves, Dundee Rep Theatre and Scottish Dance Theatre. The show fused scenes from past and present and even reflected on what life may be like in the future. Set within the Verdant Works’ high mill, the young performers took over each little corner with performances and scenes of all shapes and sizes. Jute sacks sprung to life, a suffragette rally enveloped the audience and multimedia displays showed peaks of what life is like for teenagers in the age of social media.
This amazing collection of happenings blended with the permanent exhibitions of the mill. Reflecting on the project, I am continually drawn to the word regeneration. Within our culture, we often talk about this word. Regenerating landscapes or old towns. Regenerating old ideas or even TV sci-fi Doctors (I believe). To regenerate is a process of renewal, restoration and growth. But it doesn’t mean discarding the past, or burying it away. It’s important to celebrate the past, spring board off it and still move forward. An old factory, an old museum shouldn’t be a place of reverence. It should live and breathe, full of energy and life. The young performers brought that in spades.
I imagine very few of the Victorian weavers would have imagined youth theatre performances sprawling over their work place. But would they have seen it as a respectful regeneration of their world? I hope so.