The Beauty Parade – our first in-house production of 2020 – lands in the Weston Studio this week after two years of development. But how did the idea come about?
Writer / Concept / Co-Director
“I first heard of ‘The Beauty Parade’ more than twenty years ago, when interviewing former Second World War Codebreaker Molly Schuesselle, who became a close friend. Molly worked with a pilot who dropped hastily trained British female agents behind enemy lines into occupied France between 1941-44 – codename ‘The Beauty Parade.’ Molly kept this information to herself for fifty years, having signed the Official Secrets Act. I was the first person she spoke to in depth about this.
For decades I have wanted to explore the stories of the ‘ordinary women’, nameless in war, who fell between the cracks, who perhaps did not return: women whose exploits even now languish in classified files owing to the clandestine nature of their war work.
An opportunity came thanks to the Arts Council of Wales who gave me a Creative Wales Major Award to experiment with form. Building on my thirty years of working with Deaf theatre practitioners, I set out to explore the creative potential of interweaving spoken, sung, projected, musical and visual languages into a performance, working with long term collaborators Sophie Stone and composer Rebecca Applin. Our process was unusual. I would write the material, select some for Sophie to transform into visual language, we would meet, polish the visual material, video it, then share with Becky, who composed following the tempo-rhythms of Sophie’s visual language. The process and outcome are unusual: the music follows the performer, and not the more usual way around.
I am immensely grateful to Wales Millennium Centre and our producer, Emma Evans, who understood the potential of this project, and who, despite my dogged insistence on the unusual process, still gave us a home.”
Artistic Director, Wales Millennium Centre
The Beauty Parade tells the stories of incredible women who played a vital, dangerous yet secret role in the Second World War. It’s a privilege to uncover these histories and to honour the invisible women who have, until now, been removed from history.
It has been a delight to co-produce this piece with ground-breaking theatre-maker Kaite O’Reilly. As an artist who has pioneered inclusive practice, her knowledge, experience and flair were integral for bringing these stories to life. She creates work that is thought provoking, creative and accessible.
Together with Kaite, we have explored new and innovative ways of working, and it has been hugely exciting to make work with visual language, music and text. The result is a multi-layered piece, that we hope will be seen and enjoyed by a wide audience.
With this co-production we continue our work that celebrates the voice in all its forms, and the responsibility we have to give a voice to those who have been forgotten or erased from history. We’re delighted to be celebrating these incredible women. It’s a thrill and a great responsibility to play our part in telling one of the most extraordinary stories of the 20th century.
The Beauty Parade rehearsals
The Beauty Parade is on 5 – 14 March.
All performances are accessible to D/deaf audiences with Open Captioning and visual language.