Why Drum-Beating, Cloak-Wearing Students Marched Through Shaftesbury On Saturday

Outdoor theatre comes to Shaftesbury this Thursday – and the sunshine and 27°C forecast seems fitting for a play set in modern-day Turkey.

Alfred caught up with the actors after their attention-grabbing promotion for ‘Trojan Women’.

At first it looked and sounded like a protest march. Forty-seven young people paraded through Shaftesbury’s High Street on Saturday. The group banged drums, danced, clapped and cheered. Anyone puzzled by the purpose of this procession would have quickly recognised the ancient Greek theme from the music and the marchers’ dress code of white toga-type cloaks and vine leaf crowns.

The performers are all language students who have enrolled on Belgium-based youth organisation Roeland VZW’s residential course in Shaftesbury. “We’re here to improve the English of these youngsters. We are doing it not through lessons but through theatre,” said one of the course organisers, Hildegard Sierens.

Later this week, the group will perform their take on an ancient play. “We chose to do Trojan Women by Euripides, a Greek tragedy,” said Artistic Director Tom De Bleye. Interpreting the work of a writer who lived during the 4th century BC will be a test of these students’ language abilities. “We adapted the play ourselves. It’s an original view on the story,” said Tom, who added that the students’ performance skills will also be challenged. “There’s musicians, dancers, actors and we put them all together.”

Although the play is a tragedy, it won’t be too gloomy. “It’s not going to be all weeping. It’s going to be very entertaining,” Tom said. “We’re going to show the Trojan War and the aftermath, and how the women deal with the terrible things that happened to them. It’s going to be quite a big show,” he continued. “We’re really going to take our audience back to Troy with us,” promised Hildegard.

The organisers are pleased that this week’s warm spell will allow them to stage an authentic open-air show. “We’re going to perform outdoors, like the ancient Greeks. It is going to be fantastic, I think,” said Tom.

The youth organisation has brought students to a summer school in North Dorset previously. “This is the fourth year that we have been here in Shaftesbury. We stay at St Mary’s school, nearby,” said Tom. “St Mary’s helps us out with the practical stuff. They’re really involved and very enthusiastic about this project too,” Hildegard continued.

The cast of students represents many nationalities. “We have four Italians on the course. We have Argentineans, a Croatian girl and couple of Dutch girls. They all blend together perfectly,” said Hildegard.

The Roeland movement is well-known in its home city of Ghent. “We are famous for our language courses,” she added. And Tom says many of the pupils from outside Belgium learned online about the language school in Shaftesbury. “I asked the Argentinean students and they knew it through the internet,” he said.

Hildegard says that there’s another element of surprise about the show. The precise location of Thursday’s performance venue is being kept under wraps. “We expect people at eight o’clock. We will receive them at the main entrance hall of the school and then we will take them on to a walk to our secret location. The runtime is one hour. The performance is free. Donations will be welcome afterwards and there will be free drinks and nibbles after the show,” she said.

Although the team has invested a huge amount of time in adapting the script and rehearsing the tragedy, it is a one-off performance. “It’s just for Shaftesbury, a once in a lifetime experience,” Tom promised. “Everybody who hears this should come, because they will be in for a treat,” Hildegard said.

‘Trojan Women’ is performed at 8pm on Thursday 25th July at St Mary’s, Shaftesbury.