Up-and-coming production company Buglight Theatre are taking on the issues that matter. Ahead of their debut Sheffield performance, we caught up with Buglight’s co-founder Keeley Lane to get her unique insight on the performance. The House Behind The Lines rediscovers the long-forgotten stories of the women who lived as sex workers for the soldiers on the western front. The show visits Sheffield’s very own Lantern Theatre on Thursday 3 November.
The House Behind The Lines picks up on an aspect of the First World War which is seldom addressed. What inspired you to take it on as a subject?
“The play was inspired by a really interesting article by Dr Clare Makepeace called Sex and the Somme, which gave me a fascinating insight into the experience of sex workers whose lives and livelihoods were regulated by the British army. In the years since the First World War, we’ve been well-equipped with diaries from men on the front line, but heard nothing from the women who were also there. I think it’s a symptom of the incessant romanticisation of the war; people just don’t want to think about the uncomfortable details. It stands to reason: if you found your grandma’s diary detailing her life as a sex worker on the front line, you wouldn’t necessarily want to make it public. Equally, some of these women never had the opportunity of learning to read and write, so their stories have been lost forever.
“I’m interested keeping female stories alive, in not allowing them to be written out of history. If we ignore the fact that this went on in the trenches, how can we hope to address the rape crises happening in war zones today? Plus, we hope this show goes some way to addressing the taboo that still lingers around sex work. We collaborated with real sex workers in Leeds throughout the project, as we wanted to make sure the stories of these women were told as faithfully as possible.”
It certainly seems that the performance is tackling some vital themes, both from history and from our own society. How did you go about bringing it to life?
“From the start, we knew we wanted this to be a totally collaborative process between actor and writer. We devised pieces and improvised scenes, then asked our writer, Lydia Rain, to craft the play from what we’d come up with. We knew it was important to empower the performers to create their own work.”
This is the very first show that Buglight Theatre have toured. Could you tell us a little more about the company, and what we can expect to see in the future?
The idea began to form about five years ago, when I met Richard Galloway on a job. We realised that we both wanted to work on things that mattered to us, and so Buglight Theatre was born. Next autumn, we’re hoping to tour Marching On Embers, a piece about radicalisation in Northern Ireland. We’ve also been developing a physical theatre piece called The Human Movement, which tackles the ongoing, global issue of human trafficking.
It sounds like you’ve been busy with some really exciting projects! Can you pinpoint the best part of this experience so far?
It’s been amazing to work with this creative team, and to benefit from their wealth of experience. However, the best thing has to be the feeling of doing something I really care about. It’s so important for women to have a voice, and here, we’re giving them their own history book.
And what has been the biggest challenge involved in making this project a reality?
The biggest challenge by far for a new company is building the initial relationships. You need theatres to trust that your work is good enough to programme, and actors to have the confidence to commit their time. But it’s just about perseverance. We’d love this show to go national in the future.
Finally, we have many theatre enthusiasts among our readers. Do you have any advice for someone hoping to set up a company of their own?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but make sure you’ve done your own research first. Nothing will wind people up more than having to do your job for you. Be really proactive: talk to people, learn your craft, and don’t ever stop trying.