York playwright and actress Hannah Davies tells CHARLES HUTCHINSON how personal loss informs her audio-walk and art installation at Coxwold
IT begins at The Fauconberg Arms pub in Coxwold and ends in the village churchyard where Hannah Davies's mother is buried.
In between, as you undertake a late-August audio-walk with installation, listening points and a headset and map to guide you, you will learn of York playwright and actress Hannah's "relationship with the North Yorkshire countryside, her struggle to find her place within it and the eventual sweetness of loss" .
Hannah's mother died in a car crash when Hannah was 12, one of seven children growing up near Coxwold. She had moved to the countryside in the late 1980s, a new experience for Hannah, who had been a city girl until then.
So much turmoil in a young life shaped her path ahead, so when the chance to perform a piece at the 2012 Little Festival Of Everything at the Fauconberg Arms came up, Hannah saw it as "a gift".
"I felt I'm not going back to Coxwold without reflecting on my time there," she says.
"I initially wrote it as a storytelling piece that I did as a reading, but when I came back to it a few years later, I thought, 'This is a really nice piece but I'm aware it's taken its toll on me as it's autobiographical', so that's when I decided to turn it into an audio-walk."
Entitled Within This Landscape, the walk is billed as "One map, one audio headset, one girl's heartfelt story " and invites you to walk through the late-summer countryside, discovering hidden words and images among the hills as you follow a mapped route, drawn by Hannah, on August 23, 24 or 25.
Hourly time slots are available each day, between 11am and 7pm on the first; 9am and 7pm on the second; 9am and 5pm on the Bank Holiday Monday, and the walk should take up to 90 minutes with an hour of Hannah's text.
The voice in your earpiece will be that of Hannah, who has worked for the BBC Radio Drama Company.
"In the story, you'll hear the voices of my childhood self; the development of my artistic self; and me as a woman and a mother, against the background of my tribute to my mother," she says.
"She was an artist too; she was a painter, so I reflect on that interrelated artistic talent, though I express mine through theatre and my mother through paint."
Within This Landscape addresses the connection between the landscape and Hannah's memories of her mother. "Whenever I'm there, I connect with her, whether in the churchyard, or just being around Coxwold, within this landscape – and that landscape always takes my breath away," she says.
All writers are deeply informed by their lives, suggests Hannah.
"Everything is filtered through your experiences, so the first reading I did was an acknowledgement of that, applying my craft to the experiences I'd had, being at that point of my craft where the piece would be entertaining and informative but also cathartic as a means of celebrating someone's life in a way that you couldn't when they left you," she says.
On the audio-walk, Hannah's voice is accompanied by a sound design by Jack Rutherford, an electronic music producer, sound engineer and DJ, and installation designs by Jessica Watson-Cainer, a leather-work specialist.
"Jessica is my younger sister," says Hannah, whose mother's last partner was the astrologist Jonathan Cainer.
"On the route, there'll be installations in trees done by Jessica, and it's been a really nice working relationship because she's found ways of expressing things that are in the text and had really strong ideas of how to do that."
Hannah trialled a version of the landscape walk at the last Little Festival of Everything, learning plenty for this month's full version.
"People really connected with how walking meant you were having to invest in the experience; especially the solitary experience of walking on your own, listening to the words, which gives you a disembodied feeling," she says.
"One of the things that people remarked on was how the weather impacted on the text: a momentous downpour, or a bright spell or a moment where the sky clouded over."
Whereas the original storytelling piece could wander anywhere, Hannah decided the audio-walk should follow a precise route with ten accompanying tracks on the MP3 player.
"I knew it should start at the pub and end in the churchyard and pick out the most beautiful points on a circular route in between, such as the view up to the Kilburn White Horse, for Jessica's installations," she says. "Then I had to make the ten chapters within the walk; some stationary, some as you walk."
Reflecting on the subject matter, Hannah talks of the "sweetness of loss". Why sweetness?
"You have to get to the point with any loss – and it can be lifetime – where you can enjoy the memories in a way that is not painful but has a sweetness, and that comes through baring your soul," she says.
"Also, when you become a mother – I have a nine-year-old boy – that has an effect on you because you access the mothering in yourself. That gives me a better understanding of what my mother was experiencing as a mother looking after all those children."
Hannah is now part way through a PhD at the University of York, focusing on creativity and motherhood.
"Within This Landscape is a way of expressing that," she says.
• Common Ground Theatre Ensemble presents Within This Landscape, Hannah Davies's narrated audio-walk with installations, at The Fauconberg Arms, Coxwold, August 23 to 25. Book slot and headset online at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; all tickets £10. Arrive early for collection of headsets; dress for weather and countryside. Visit the same website to watch a trailer.