Art SOAK 2014 Guest Blog: Tom Saunders: Five Miles South

Our next guest blogger is director Tom Saunders who has been awarded one of our commissions to develop a brand new play by Grace Barrington based in Bournville. The play, Five Miles South, will be presented as part of ‘Under Construction’ at the Ingot Studios, Charlotte Road from 7pm Saturday 15th March. Tickets are available from Oxboffice.

We’ve just had our first read-through of FIVE MILES SOUTH by Grace Barrington. I always find the first read-through a bit scary… scared it won’t sound right… scared an actor will ask an amazing question that I don’t even understand, let alone have an answer to…scared that suddenly I won’t have any idea how to direct it. This occasion was even more scary because just like the cast, this was my first reading of the play as well. It had only landed in my inbox from Grace a mere thirty minutes earlier, hot off the press, only just finished in time for the first read-through. Because we like living dangerously.

This was not the norm. As Youth Theatre Director at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre I’m usually the authority of the play in the room. I’ve usually read the play at least a dozens times before the read-through and often the performers have never read it.

Actors Dan Carter and Dayna Bateman sat down, took pens/highlighters out and then opened their scripts (still slightly warm from the printer) and began to read. I just had to sit back and listen. Then…relief.

The play is funny, imaginative and eventually a little bit heartbreaking.

I vaguely knew based on conversations with Grace what the play would be about. I knew that she was basing the play in Bournville and was hoping to explore what the leafy green area might have to offer to people who live in and around the neighbourhood. What Grace has done is used her experiences of growing up part-time in Bournville and the other in Northfield to create two characters who both love Bournville but see it through very different eyes.  The characters – one from Bournville and the other from Northfield- meet at the age of nine and by the end of the play they’re seventeen (and it’s only a fifteen minute play.)

It’s only a short play and we flew through it on first read. Laughing. Joking. Also a few gasps. So we read it again. And again. And again. Then the cast’s conversation started to flow:

Dayna: It’s going to be great because of playfulness and playing so many different ages.

Dan: Grace writes really truthful dialogue. It’s really easy to get your mouth around. It’s just truth and I find that really exciting. The two characters see themselves as quite different by the end but I’m not sure they are. They obviously are going through different things but have many similarities too.

Dayna: Every time we looked at it different things kept opening up.

Dan: What’s fascinating is that there are huge gaps between the scenes. We don’t see a lot of important stuff happen but it’s there.

Dayna: The biggest gap is between when the characters are 12 and then 15. Answering the question of what happened in those three years is essential to making play work

Dan: It’s actually really sad play when you get past the comedy because it’s about your expectation of what you think you should gain from life/growing up and how you can actually lose something on that journey too. 


Dan Carter and Dayna Bateman rehearsing a scene about the perfect way to eat a Creme Egg.


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