23rd July 2014, 11:59am
Memorial performance remembers tragedy of the Beechey boys
'Leaving Home' (Copyright BBC) The tragedy of a World War One family which lost five sons to the conflict will be remembered by a unique performance in the rural Lincolnshire village where they lived.

The Beechey family, whose home was in the village of Friesthorpe, near Lincoln, sent eight young men to fight on the front line of the Great War, but only three of the brothers returned. The family is one of only three in the UK known to have lost so many sons, and their story will be remembered in a moving tribute performance that will take the audience through their village streets and into their local parish church.

The promenade performance, in which the audience will follow the actors through the village, represents the first commemoration of its kind. It forms part of Leaving Home – a poignant collaborative project by the University of Lincoln’s School of Performing Arts and BBC Radio Lincolnshire. The University and BBC have worked closely with the Diocese of Lincoln on the project, which marks the centenary of the start of the war and forms part of the BBC’s World War One At Home season.

The spectacular outdoor performance in Friesthorpe marks the culmination of Leaving Home, which also includes a radio drama and two outdoor concerts at the Arboretum in Lincoln. All productions will be broadcast on BBC Radio Lincolnshire, with the Arboretum concert airing live on Saturday 26th July at 4pm, and the Friesthorpe performance also live on Sunday 3rd August from 3pm. The radio drama, which was recorded in front of live theatre audiences, can be heard in full at 2pm on Monday 4th August.

All performances are co-written and directed by senior lecturers from the University of Lincoln's School of Performing Arts, Conan Lawrence and Dr Andrew Westerside. They are also produced by Conan, who is Executive Director of the Leaving Home project, and feature a cast of Lincoln students and graduates alongside professional actors.

Conan Lawrence said: “Staging the Beechey family’s profound experience of conflict has been humbling, and it is an honour to work with so many partners and talented performers to bring their tale to life. The beautiful setting of Friesthorpe presents us with a rare opportunity to transport our audience, both physically and through immersive performance, to the heart of the action. Our audience will experience the reality of life on the home front on a truly cinematic scale, as we tell this local story of national significance.”

In Friesthorpe, the site-specific production tells the heart-breaking story of Amy, the mother of the Beechey boys, as she waves her sons off to war. Beginning in Lincoln, the audience will be physically transported to the village where they witness the action unfold as they make their way through the picturesque parish. Together with the performers, they will travel to the village church, where Reverend Prince William Thomas Beechey, the boys’ father, was vicar until his death in 1912. It is here that the audience will encounter stirring musical accompaniment from the Royal Anglian Regimental Band, the RAF College Cranwell Military Wives Choir and a single piper from the Scunthorpe and District Pipe Band.

When the audience arrives at the 13th century Church of St Peter, the church bells will be rung for the first time in more than 100 years.

This moving spectacle is possible thanks to a grant of £3,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to the Parochial Church Council of St Peters, through which the historic bells have been restored. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant will also support the creation of an audio tour for the church, highlighting the family’s sacrifice, which the University of Lincoln and BBC will help produce.  

Andrew Westerside said: “The story of the Beechey family is not just about the terrible losses they endured, but also a story about love and heartbreak that makes a poignant connection with anyone who’s ever had to say “goodbye”. There’s a scale and ambition to the pieces that we’re all enormously proud of, and we’re very much looking forward to sharing them.”

Charlie Partridge, Managing Editor at BBC Radio Lincolnshire, added: “The story of the Beechey brothers reminds us of the unimaginable suffering endured by the war generation. We are immensely proud to be working with our partners at the University of Lincoln and at the Diocese of Lincoln to help bring this story to a wider audience, and it is a fitting focus for our First World War Centenary commemorations here in Lincolnshire.”
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