One Hundred years ago sixteen conscientious objectors were detained in the 19th-century cell block of Richmond Castle, leaving their poignant and personal testimonies in drawings on the cell walls. From there they were transported, along with others, from Landguard Fort in Harwich and Seaford, East Sussex to Northern France to be court-martialled and subsequently sentenced to death. Their sentence was commuted to ten years hard labour, and along with hundreds of others, the Richmond Sixteen were subsequently incarcerated in prisons across the UK for their refusal to fight in World War I
‘Sound rose and fell in waves until it felt as if I was drenched in music that had seeped its way into every organ in my body’
Over three days in spring 2017, visitors will have the opportunity to experience Richmond Castle as never before, through a new immersive, choral experience devised by composer and artist Verity Standen which explores the stories of conscientious objection with a professional ensemble and local male singers. REFRAIN is a contemporary reflection on conscience and sacrifice in the light of drastic, heart-wrenching conflict and, following the potent context of Richmond Castle, the work will be reconfigured and devised with male singers local to both St. Helens, Merseyside and then Newhaven, East Sussex, both locations with specific significance in the story of conscientious objection in WWI and WWII.
Artist Verity Standen said: “I am thrilled to be working with such a diverse range of voices – men drawn from all walks of life. I try to leave room for the performers to make the music their own within the compositions I’m writing. I expect the piece to sound and feel totally different in each location, as it will be shaped by the local singers, the architecture and history of each site, and each audience who will explore it in a different way. It’s a great challenge to compose music that will resound not only in a Castle Keep but also in a local pub. It’s a daunting task, but I know the power of a room full of voices and I can’t wait to start filling those spaces with sound.”
Claire Doherty, Director of arts producers said: “Refrain represents Situations commitment to growing art out of place and to offering the chance to hear untold stories. Refrain offers the opportunity to experience these sites as never before, against the background of the extraordinary struggles over conscience.”
Kevin Booth, English Heritage’s Senior Curator for the North, said: “English Heritage is delighted to be collaborating with Verity Standen at Richmond Castle. We’re working hard to conserve the fragile graffiti left at the castle by the Richmond Sixteen but we also want to involve local people in their remarkable story and this project is part of that.”
Patrick Fox, Director of Heart of Glass said: “We are delighted to be working with partners to develop this ambitious project. Verity Standen is an extraordinary artist who creates exquisite work with her collaborators.
“The histories of conscientious objection in England require a sensitive and respectful approach. Heritage stories such as Ernest Everett, a teacher in St Helens and a World War One Conscientious Objector, are often left unheard and misunderstood, viewed as irrelevant and in isolation instead of part of a national, contemporary story.
“This story and others form the backdrop of this new immersive choral experience and we are delighted to work with our community partners and audiences to create a special experience in St Helens this May. This is art as it should be, in direction conversation with the social and political.”
Laura McDermott, Creative Director at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), said: “Working as a co-producer on this project chimes with the values we use to guide the public programme at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts: human rights, social justice, creative education and access to the arts for all. These values are inspired by Sir Richard Attenborough, after whom our centre is named. It feels particularly pertinent to be working on a project about conscientious objectors in the First World War. This ‘futile’ war was a subject close to Sir Richard’s heart, which he brought to life in his seminal film of the satirical musical Oh! What a Lovely War, released in 1969.
“Verity Standen’s work is incredibly potent and moving and I’m sure she will do justice to the rich local history of Conscientious Objection in East Sussex. It’s thrilling for us to collaborate with Situations – one of the UK’s most visionary artistic producers – as we begin to expand the scope of our artistic programme beyond the walls of our building.”
‘Sound rose and fell in waves until it felt as if I was drenched in music that had seeped its way into every organ in my body, and maybe even found my soul.’ – Lyn Gardner, The Guardian on Verity Standen’s HUG, 2015
Verity Standen is an award-winning artist, composer and choir leader, whose unique work with voices has surprised and enchanted audiences around the UK and internationally. From intimate concerts to immersive theatrical experiences, Verity’s work seeks to reimagine how audiences experience vocal music. Verity’s immersive choral piece HUG won the Off West End TBC Award 2016 and was nominated for The Arches Brick Award and a Total Theatre Award. As well as touring her pieces HUG, MMM HMMM and SYMPHONY across the UK and internationally, Verity is currently composing for a contemporary dance opera, which will premiere in 2017. She is also researching a sound design project for in-patients at London hospitals and recording a soundtrack for an independent documentary. REFRAIN is her most ambitious project to date.
7-9 April, Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire
19 – 21 May, St. Helens, Merseyside
9 – 11 June, Newhaven, East Sussex
Tickets on sale at www.refrain.online from Monday 6 March