HEREFORDSHIRE'S Orchard Art project, run by the Bulmer Foundation, has soared to new heights with a play about the value of orchards created and performed by students at Echo's About Face Theatre Company based in Leominster.
Two performances of the play, called Five Fruit Trees Make An Orchard have wowed invited audiences. The actors, all with learning disabilities, recite from memory extensive passages of 17th century prose describing the social, environmental, economic and spiritual values of orchards and then interpret those values in their own ways.
With amazing skill and terrific artistic direction from Jess MacKenzie, it's an emotional rollercoaster. The audience is swung from crying as a young mother reads a letter from her husband fighting in France to dancing with elation in the final act. The actors spent time in Herefordshire's orchards developing their material.
The world premiere of the play was outside in the fabulous surroundings of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, the oldest botanic garden in the country, on a perfect English summer afternoon in July.
The audience included some of the most important plant and history academics in the world, representatives of Oxfordshire orchard groups, people with learning disabilities in Oxfordshire, and many members of the Bulmer family.
The second performance, at Lyde Court near Hereford, was watched by the proud families of the actors and many of Herefordshire's care commissioners.
The Lord-Lieutenant of Oxfordshire led the dignitaries in Oxford and the Lord-Lieutenant of Herefordshire in Hereford, so the performances have been honoured by the presence of HM the Queen's representative for both counties, as well as the deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford, the deputy chairman of Herefordshire Council and the Mayors of Hereford and Ross-on-Wye.
Described variously as "a triumph", "truly amazing and inspirational" and "a rare and special event" by those who have seen it, the audiences also leave with more than having experienced a uniquely entertaining and emotional play.
They have learned about the importance of orchards, their sustainable value and some of their history, as well as about the abilities of people with learning disabilities and what they can contribute to wider society. The Bulmer Foundation will be working with others to build upon the shared interest and insights that the performances have fostered.
The Orchard Art project is a partnership, managed by the Bulmer Foundation, between orchard owners, caring organisations, and professional artists and enables people with learning disabilities to spend quality time in some of Herefordshire's many orchards.
Funding from several Bulmer family charities, the Bulmer Foundation, Heineken UK and Herefordshire Council enables this to happen. The Bulmer Foundation www.bulmerfoundation.org.uk