Tess Hills

When Manchester Art Gallery approached Curious Cargo to be involved in this project, we jumped at the chance. Curious Cargo is a street theatre company that regularly performs ‘character shows’ at festivals and events around the country. This was our first commission to produce a piece of strolling theatre solely for a gallery or museum setting. Our brief was initially to develop two characters, the Campaigner and the Navvy, for a strolling show to be performed in and around the art gallery itself. We were then asked to further our research and develop an additional four characters which would be featured on the interactive website.

Our work started with thorough research into the painting, the Victorian era, and any reference there might be to the characters we would be portraying. We drew on many resources to do this research including specialists at the art gallery, books, the internet, museums, and of course the painting itself. For the Campaigner, I also did a lot of research into Temperance associations and ‘pledges’. The tracts (leaflets), that the Campaigner distributes during our strolling show, features extracts from actual Temperance publications written in the Victorian era.

Julian and I then set about writing the monologues that you can hear on the website. We also needed to research and learn the accent that would be appropriate for each character. Next we began sourcing the props that needed to feature on the website and in the strolling show. We bought items from the internet, from junk shops and antiques centres. We also made some props and distressed (dirtied down) other props and bits of costume. The costumes and props really helped us to ‘get into character’ when we where devising and rehearsing the monologues and strolling show.

The filming of the characters and their monologues was great fun. Each character took about an hour to put into costume and make-up. It was fascinating to see that visual transformation happen in front of our eyes, (well, in the mirror!); and then the characters themselves come to life in front of the camera. We were filmed in front of a ‘green screen’ which meant that later on the website company could superimpose the painting into the background behind the live character. A whole team of people where involved in creating the final image that you see on the website. You can see more of Curious Cargo’s work at: