Residents at a Perthshire care home were treated to a private audience with award-winning actor Julie Hesmondhalgh as part of an art-in-lockdown initiative from touring theatre company Paines Plough which saw live theatre come to a care home.
Julie swapped hard-hitting dramas like Happy Valley and Broadchurch for online plays for the elderly when she performed a virtual monologue for residents at Balhousie Pitlochry in Highland Scotland.
The residents and staff at the home, part of Balhousie Care Group, were treated to a live video performance from Julie via Skype of a short play called ‘Where I am From’ by Scottish Writer Stef Smith.
The reading was part of a series of short plays called ‘Come To Where I Am’. The series has been commissioned by theatre company Paines Plough, written by writers from all around the UK about the places they called home during lockdown. The Pitlochry group of plays were co-commissioned by Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
Julie, best known for playing kind-hearted Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, was delighted to be able to meet the residents via video link for the performance. Julie said:
“It was such a pleasure to (virtually) meet the fantastic staff and residents of Balhousie Pitlochry and to be able to read them Stef’s lovely piece about growing up in Scotland. I chickened out of attempting the accent in front of an audience of Scots, but I hope they enjoyed her tales of running wild around the forests and lochs and lanes of the highlands. It was brilliant to be able to connect with everyone there for half an hour, and to read Stef’s wonderful evocative words.”
Matt Maltby, Paines Plough’s Producer, explained that the theatre company wanted to find a way to reach groups and individuals who don’t have digital access to the plays online so they could still enjoy them. Matt said:
“We have been running a caller service with some of Britain’s best actors calling individuals, care homes and other groups to read the plays down the phone or over Zoom. We work with our partner theatres to find these groups – so in this case, Pitlochry Festival Theatre recommended Balhousie Care. We were delighted to call the residents at Balhousie Pitlochry; the work care homes do has never been more vital, and we were so glad to be able to support the residents and the Balhousie team.”
From Stirling originally, writer Stef Smith enjoyed seeing her play reach people in Scotland who wouldn’t usually readily have access to this form of entertainment. Stef said:
“I’m so glad Paines Plough have been able to share my piece with the residents in Pitlochry – especially performed by the wonderful Julie Hesmondhalgh. It’s set only an hour’s drive away from Pitlochry, and it’s important to me that we’re still able to share stories with people across Scotland.”
Julie’s performance was thoroughly enjoyed by the residents and staff at Balhousie Pitlochry. Home Manager Sandra Hutton said:
“It was wonderful being able to welcome Julie virtually into our home to perform this short play. Both our residents and staff really enjoyed it. The theme of the play, ‘Where I Am From’, prompted residents to talk about where they come from and share stories with each other. We’d like to thank Pitlochry Festival Theatre for suggesting us to be involved.”
Melanie Brockway, Communications and Campaigns Associate at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, added:
"We were very excited to be involved with the launch of Paines Plough Come to Where I Am series of short films, and when this extended to the Caller Service we were quick to connect Paines Plough with the Balhousie Care Group, with whom we already had a relationship following our Summer Holiday Musical Bus Tour.
“One of our first concerns, as we went into lockdown, was to support the remote and isolated residents in local communities, especially those without internet connection. We immediately set up a Telephone Club exactly for this purpose, to chat with anyone who needed us, and keep them company. As we now know, COVID-19 put care homes in even greater isolation, losing any entertainment activities they would usually enjoy. Along with a couple of our weekly Telephone Club callers, being able to share stories and introduce residents to a personal, virtual monologue by the wonderful Julie Hesmondhalgh has been a particular joy. It’s lovely to hear this will expand to the wider group, to reach and engage even more residents."
After the success of Julie’s performance at Pitlochry, Paines Plough are planning to arrange virtual performances from more well-known actors in more homes across Balhousie Care Group.