Q & A with Director of The Trench, Jason Squibb

Hello! Please can you introduce yourself to us?

Hello, I’m Jason Squibb, and I’m the Artistic Director for Collective Arts Ltd. A very boring name for an arts company; I will change it at some point!

How did this project, and your involvement in it, come about?

I wanted to do something for the WW1 commemoration. I was brought up on war comics – Victor and War Lord, things like that, so I’ve had an interest from an early age. 

I approached the Cornish World Heritage Site team about this back in about 2013.  I wanted to do something outside, something immersive, where the audience participate in some way, so I asked them ‘have you got anywhere’? And they said head down to Levant Mine and see what you think.  It’s like a lunar landscape, kind of ‘bombed out’ looking.  It was perfect!

Was it easy to get the go-ahead?

Yes, although there was a long lead time to get the project started, and if I’m honest it took me about 2 years to get the funding and that project was about half the cost of this one at Bodmin.

Why was this one so much more?

This was a much more complicated set-up, involving the steam railway – it’s expensive to run trains! Plus 4 short museum plays performed in the museum’s attic were a logistical feat in themselves! But having said that, doing the Levant plays in 2015 set us up to with the knowledge to bring to this one. 

The whole thing is bigger this time round. We only had 20 actors for the Levant Mine production whereas this time we’ve got 80 for The Bodmin Trench!

So, it started in Levant Mine, was adapted and came to Bodmin.  Will it go anywhere after this?

No, I don’t think so.  These are such large-scale events, and difficult to do for long periods of time with a mixed cast of students, community actors, volunteers and professional actors. It’s such a slow ‘machine’. I’m just so glad we were able to commemorate the Armistice Centenary at our county regiment’s home. 

Hopefully in 50 or 100 years’ time, people will look back and see how we commemorated the war. I’m a firm believer that we are making history now. All of us, and people will look back in 50 years’ time and see what we did.

What was the most challenging thing about bringing The Trench script to life?

The main thing is you’re working from the beginning which is your research process to the end bit which is your exhibition and the middle bit which is your performance. And it’s not like they naturally tie in; you don’t always answer one question and it leads onto the next, sometimes it starts off a whole trail of other questions, and you’re off on a tangent. Keeping focused on our DCLI men was key, and their families. The Bodmin men were my primary goal. 

How was it using the museum as a theatrical space?

The thing is about here and I do really mean this, is that the museum has been so supportive from the start.  They have worked so hard on this; Debs Vosper on the research team has given countless hours, Verity, Hannah and Sophie – No Mean Feat and Mary in particular have worked tirelessly on this project. So, it has worked because of that.

Lovely that an old institution embraces something new.

Yes! we were like… “can we come over and take over your museum for about a month… make a lot of mess…. and not tidy up after ourselves...?”

The museum has bent over backwards to accommodate us, but it is this kind of collaboration in that you are taking over a space, but it’s in a good energy and the stories you’re telling are fitting for the space, that’s why it works.

How is this production bringing something new to The Trenches and WW1 that we haven’t seen before?

We sometimes tend to look at history, World Wars in particular, with a global perspective but as human beings,  we find the massive numbers killed quite difficult to comprehend. I can’t picture that many people, I can probably get to a hundred, I probably can’t even picture that many, because my brain just can’t compute it. But when you personalise a story, by doing it in this way, we are able to localise it and focus our minds on a few stories – you can reflect the horror of it all.

When I watch the roll-call being given at the end, when we find out who doesn’t make it out of the trenches, it’s particularly powerful.  When an audience member is around the serving age group and they are called out to join the group of those who didn’t make it, you think ah, you would be cannon fodder. You’d be very lucky to survive. 

It’s these little stories, the small stories of the people caught up in war, you just can’t tell the million stories, but you can focus it down, and say right, this is Bodmin, let’s look at what happened in Bodmin, and actually then you start seeing all the links. Most people in those trenches unbeknown to us at the start are linked, they knew each other, officers going off to fight together, from Withiel or St Wenn, St Tudy, you suddenly find all these links between them.

There was one lovely moment from a research meeting where Tim, researching the men from St Wenn showed us a photograph of chap he was researching, who was based in India, it was a black and white photograph, he was sitting there next to someone else and behind him were two soldiers standing in tropical uniform, from the other side of me, lead researcher Debs noticed that the chap she was researching was sat next to him! So just in that one moment, simply by having these researchers in the same room, we realised that they were mates.

What will the audience members be thinking as they drive home from the performance?

I would hope that they will think about the actual person they just represented, rather than the war on the global scale, that’s what I would hope. If we’ve done our job well and connected them, that’s the point if it. 

What next for you Jason?

Rest! After 2 years of this, I need to focus on my daughter.