Michele's Blog

Michele's Blog (13)

Monday, 13 January 2020 13:17

Michele's New Show: The Ark and Dove

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1 The Ark And Dove Show Artwork front 72dpi crop

I am so proud to have been funded by the Arts Council England to produce a new show based on the gripping story of The Ark and Dove - two ships that left Cowes on the Isle of Wight on 22 November 1633. More and more we are faced with the challenges of migration-people fleeing their homes, the countries where they were born-because of prejudice and threats to their lives.
Through The Ark and Dove I have worked with: Writer David Haworth, Director Lucy Phillips Designer Lizzie Watts and Puppet Maker Teresa Grimaldi to develop a family show that asks modern audiences the questions:

How far would you go to be free?
Would you leave your home? your country?.....your family?

We've set the show in a modern charity shop.

Mary’s in the Charity Shop pricing up donations. Through a treasure of objects she learns about the adventures of two ships The Ark and Dove - a gripping story from the year 1633. The story of Mary Jennings - a servant woman, who travels from Cowes on the Isle of Wight across the ocean, west, risking everything. She made it across the treacherous waters with others, determined to make a better life.Sound familiar?In Maryland, America. Mary Jennings meets Mansi of the Piscataway tribe. They share their own stories, learn from each other and become friends.I have also worked with my colleagueTam Gilbert to ensure that the show is as accessible as possible. David has written the script with audio description in mind, there are Touch Tours available at each performance (see below) and an accessible version of the show flier (see below)Ideal for age 7+ Duration: 55mins

Catch The Ark and Dove at:
Saturday 8 February Forest Forge Theatre, Crow, Ringwood
Monday 17 February Morden Village Hall, Dorset (Artsreach)
Tuesday 18 February Lyric Theatre, Bridport, Dorset
Wednesday 19 February Lighthouse Poole (with BSL Interpretor)
Friday 21 February Isle of Wight Story Festival Newport, Riverside Centre, Trafalgar Room (Isle of Wight Story Festival)
Saturday 22 February Sanford Orcas Village Hall, Dorset 

Schools performances at:
Tuesday 25 February Classic Boat Museum, Isle of Wight Isle of Wight Story Festival)
Wednesday 26 February Cowes and Ryde Libraries, (Isle of Wight Isle of Wight Story Festival)

Further Tour Spring/Summer being booked: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Contact venue websites for tickets.

Film at https://youtu.be/j-wItQDbov8

Film with Tam about Accessibility: https://youtu.be/Ok2cq97r82Q

Accessible Flier: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/14Amo88R8WRHNzeAfABJgJanczPzHHcFD

It's great to be back on tour with Bumblefly Theatre Co. (out of Forest Forge Theatre Co. in Ringwood) after the Christmas break. It's kind of strange when characters, stories and audiences (mulled wine, mince pies,cake etc. included!) become part of your life for two months........and then.........they're not there. So hello:

The Travelling Players

The Hunter

Squirrel Nutkin

Clive the Duck


I've missed you! and you Dom, Anna, Tilly and of course all the lovely audiences in so many different venues: Village halls, theatres, schools etc.

Only two and a half weeks left to see 'Little Red', check out the remaining performances at: https://www.facebook.com/BumbleFlyTheatreCo/

and gather your rose buds while you may!

Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:38

The Ark and Dove Education Pack

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The Education Pack shows the extent of research you have undertaken which has culminated in the ability to engage so well with the schools on the subject".

Pleased to launch the Education Pack for NHLF funded project The Ark and Dove, written by Colin Phillimore. Informed by our work with students in four schools on the Isle of Wight who contributed to our thinking and presentation of the issues presented by:

#migration #prejudice #religiousfreedom #firstnations #colonialism #interculturalcommunication

It was a wonderful experience for the children, some even surprising themselves as to how they overcome their 'shyness' when performing. You both helped to make it as inclusive as possible, so all children felt they had something to give.

On returning to the classroom the children were very excited about what they had just done. There was also a great sense of pride .

Jane Sandy, St.Mary's Primary School, IOW

the children that are taking part in the project are really enjoying it and learning so much as a result and we as a school fully appreciate your effort and support with the project.

Ben Givens, Barton Primary School, IOW

"It's that time again, the time we've waited for!"

bumblefly 2019 little rede

Oh I love it! Back with the team at Bumblefly Theatre Co. devising and rehearsing writer David Haworths' latest festive work of genius.......... 'Little Red Riding Hood' or 'Little Red' as we like to call her!

Earlier in the autumn I was approached by Forest Forge Theatre Company's CEO Sharon Lawless to be one of their Associate Artist and so it's a real privilege to be using FF's wonderful facilities in Ringwood along with another AA Anna Harriot and Dom Phillips of course, longstanding member of the FF team.

ff associate artist logo

So, this year's ribawld rendition for all ages includes (as ever) playing several parts in quick fire speed, with tails, tales, songs, ditties, truths and untruths...........come and see us at one of the very lovely venues around Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset.....full list at: http://www.bumbleflytheatre.co.uk/current-productions.html


It's been great working on the Isle of Wight as part of a National Heritage Lottery Fund commission from the Isle of Wight Literary Festival.

With Estelle Baker from the IOW Heritage Service, Colin Phillimore (Creative) and Elspeth Giddens from IOWLF we worked in four local schools over four weeks:

  • Barton Junior School 
  • St. Francis Junior School
  • St. Helens Junior School
  • St. Mary’s Junior School

We wanted to facilitate sharing this project with as many schools and public learning facilities as possible and develop an Education Pack.  This ensures an ongoing legacy of The Ark and Dove project with the progress of the project and final outcomes informing maritime heritage and linking to next year's #Mayflower400 commemoration.

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The gripping story of The Ark and Dove incorporates so many different themes and it just wasn't possible to do justice to all these with students over four weeks. Some of the class teachers did cover issues that looked at the illnesses brought by the travellers/colonist and how this dessimated the Native American peoples; the exploitation of tobacco and other natural rersources 'in the name of the King'.

We tried to focus the students on the fact that at first the travellers were welcomed and hosted by the Piscataway peoples and the Tayak (or Chief) told them: 

"This is just what I want, we will share one table".

If you would like us to come to your school, theatre, or community organisation to share and perform The Ark and Dove please get in contact with us via this website or email me at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Sharing Heritage

The Ark and Dove is a great opportunity to share with audiences the heritage of Cowes and the Isle of Wight in the nation's maritime history.

Over four weeks students had the opportunity to hear the story of The Ark and Dove from 1633, as recorded by Father White, a catholic priest exiled because of religious prejudice. They explored objects and artefacts and recorded 'What they thought?' 'What they knew?' and 'What they wondered?' about them.

They started work on a short script telling the story of leaving Cowes to arriving in Chesapeake Bay and sailing up the Potomac River to meet and live alongside the Piscataway nation.

Over 200 people (students, family and teachers) saw the students presentations and this was just part of the legacy.........I'll be bringing The Ark and Dove show to venues on the Isle of Wight and south coast in February 2020.......but that's for another Blog.

Thanks to everyone including the school staff who made us so welcome and to Illustrator Hazel Evans who developed an amazing image for the project emcompassing many of the images that represent the gripping tale of The Ark and Dove:


The Feather/Quill - a central image as Father White would have written with a Quill, birds on both sides of the Atlantic would have been very present (especially the Herons of the Potomac River). Also of course the First Nation tribes like the Piscataway would have used feathers not only for decoration but as currency for trading.

The Geography of the Chesapeake Bay - incorporated in the Quill, including the its many tributaries.

The central character Mary Jennings (listed as a Servant on board The Ark is seen looking West on board.

The Red Chevrons - representing the First Nation tribes.

The scroll bearing Father White's words in Latin: 'Declaration itineris in Marilandiam' which means 'Declaration trip to Maryland'. The Ark and Dove were commissioned by Lord Cecil Calvert,  2nd Baron of Baltimore to establish a new community on the Potomac River in Chesapeake Bay that became Maryland.

Thursday, 01 February 2018 12:09

Suffragettes! 100 Years

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This weekend I'm taking a trip to London to visit the Museum of London who are marking 100 years of (partial) suffrage for Women in the UK 'Votes for Women' . There's obviously a lot of interest on this topic at the moment and recently I did an interview with Melanie Campbell from Radio Solent who is doing an article to broadcast in the near future on Suffragettes of the south coast. I'll let you know when it goes to Air.

In many ways it's a very emotive subject and recent 'outings,' #metoo campaigns and equal pay issues heighten those feelings. They underline the neccessity to never get complacent on issues of gender, equality and oppression.

But there's even more to it for me, as in 2010/11 I worked with some of my lovely friends and colleagues to create a one woman playlet exploring the life of Minnie Baldock. Minnie retired to Poole after sharing platforms with the Pankhursts and having been imprisoned for the cause. Colin and I were researching for another project at the Poole History Centre, part of what used to be the medieval Wool House on Poole Quay. He was flicking through one of the many books on Poole's history there, when suddenly he sidled up to me and said: "I've found our Suffragette!" I had for a long time wanted to look at the suffrage movement in Poole and there she was - one Minnie Baldock! There's a video of the piece here: The Right to Vote Michele O'Brien

I ended up visiting the Museum of London where Minnie's artefacts were held in her own box. Can you imagine the emotions I felt as I was able to touch and read her personal letters to John her son - "to be brave", while his mother was in prison, the most touching and loving words of appreciation to her husband Hal, and letters from upper class patrons inviting Minnie to tea, so that they could hear the voice of the working class woman!
"Together with local MP, Kier Hardie, Minnie held a public meeting in 1903, to complain about low pay for women in the Canning Town area. She was also involved in the West Ham Unemployed Fund and in 1905 became an Independent Labour Party candidate in the election for the West Ham Board of Guardians (the body that oversaw the local administration of the Poor Law and workhouse, and whose elections were open to female voters). She joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) later that year and became active in heckling prominent political figures in public meeting halls across London".

"On 26 January 1906, Minnie Baldock established a branch of the WSPU (known commonly as the Suffragettes) in Canning Town, in an attempt to recruit working class members to the cause. By September that year, open-air Suffragette public meetings were being held in Upton Park (see extract form Stratford Express, 28 Sept 1906)".

I'm chuffed to see that Forest Gate have referenced our video that was made in Scaplen's Court Museum kitchen and there's lots of information on Minnie here: E7 Now and Then

Minnie retired to Lake Road, Hamworthy where they let people camp on their land. It is now land that has the Hamworthy Labour Party Club on it.

I love this photograph of Minnie as a young woman in 1909 and contrasting the wise atmosphere of the later photographs. As part of the project I got to meet Minnie's Granddaughter who still lives in the area and still remembers making apple pies with Minnie (of course they were featured in lovely Kate O'Malley's writing!).

Written by Kate O'Malley.

Directed by Deborah Aita.

Costume by Georgie Lang-Jones.

With thanks to Calling the Shots, the Museum of London and Poole Museum.

So you can see why this year means so much to me and I will be interested to see how the Museum of London interprets material for their family day this Saturday (3 February).

"Shout! Shout! Up with your song,

Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking!"

Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.
Song with its story, dreams with their glory
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and louder it swells,
Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord!

Verse 2

Long, long we in the past
Cowered in dread from the light of heaven,
Strong, strong stand we at last,
Fearless in faith and with sight new given.
Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty,
(Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!)
These, these beckon us on!
Open your eyes to the blaze of day.

Verse 3

Comrades ye who have dared
First in the battle to strive and sorrow!
Scorned, spurned nought have ye cared,
Raising your eyes to a wider morrow,
Ways that are weary, days that are dreary,
Toil and pain by faith ye have borne;
Hail, hail victors ye stand,
Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn!

Verse 4

Life, strife those two are one,
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
On, on that ye have done
But for the work of today preparing.
Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
(Laugh in hope, for sure is the end)
March, march many as one,
Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.

I've been working with actor and collaborator Tam Gilbert, Jenny Gordon and Alastair Nesbitt recently. Using Hellen Keller as a starting to explore visually-impaired women in Dorset, then and now!  Researching with source material at the incredibleresource that is Dorset History Centre in Dorchester, we've then taken students from Victoria Education College there and this week delivered some of our findings to a group of students who are home educated at the Priesthouse Museum in Wimborne.

Tam has written a grea piece for the disabityarts online blog and you can read about it here:




I took a visit to one of my favourite places today-Poole Museum-as I was invited to the opening of the new exhibition celebrating the women of Poole old and new. I was very please to see one of my longest standing characters Granny Cousins celebrated and her actual bonnet and lantern, donated by her family after she died. I've known this incredible woman for 20 years now and it is my delight to take groups around the nooks and crannies of Old Town Poole telling tales-she never fails to entertain and inspire. Caroline Jane Cousins (nee Bartlett) had such a sad and hard life. She was forced into the workhouse having left her home in Moreton near Wareham, then experiencing domestic violence and her son's accident on the railway that left him disabled.

Equally as inspirational, was to see Minnie Baldock who retired to Hamworthy in Poole after an incredible life in the Suffragette movement. Minnie shared platforms with the Pankhurts and other eminant women and spent time in prison for the cause with all the horrendous practices that were evident in Edwardian Britain penal system. I loved researching and creating a 40 minute piece with writer Kate O'Malley. There was so much personal material to work with and I'll never forget the moment I opened a box at the Museum of London to find her personal letters. Heart rending letters to her son, explaining why she had to go away; to husband Hal telling him to tay strong; and letters received from Upper Class patrons of the Suffrage cause, who wanted her to attend afternoon teas to represent the working classes.

Later I even met with her Granddaughter who could just remember making apple pies with Minnie her and Hal's home on Lake Road, Hamworthy.

Check out my Storytelling page for a short video of the piece 'Right to Vote' made with Poole Museum at http://www.micheleobrien.co.uk/suffragette-minnie-baldock.html and if you're looking for someone to make your centenary event to mark 'some' women getting the vote, get in touch!

Here's to Minnie and Granny Cousins and all those strong, inspirational women associated with Poole.

Friday, 05 January 2018 15:49

Nelken Line in Bournemouth

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At the end of 2017 I had the pleasure to team up with Filmaker and Dance lover Lizzie Sykes Nelken Line by Pina Bausch film by Lizzie Sykes 
the simplistic repetition of movements of the 'Nelken Line' really had a unifying effect on the assembled group of lovelies from around Bournemouth who gathered at Hengistbury Head in Bournemouth one bright, breezy and exhilerating Saturday morning in November. An international invitation is extended to anyone wanting to take part and you can visit the Pina Bausch Foundation website at: Nelken Line: Pina Bausch Foundation
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