A major modern re-imagining of a medieval poem of crisis

Blog | Published on April 6, 2017

Penned in the Margins invites you to step back through time and explore a world of inequality, political corruption and spiritual crisis in Fair Field.

11 May to 9 July, National Poetry Library, London (FREE exhibition)

30 June & 1 July, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Herefordshire (performances)
7 July & 8 July, Shoreditch Town Hall, London (performances)

*** Tickets to be released in May. Weekend tickets available. ***


Written 650 years ago by Herefordshire poet William Langland, Piers Plowman enters the mind of a wandering dreamer, Will, as he embarks on an epic quest to find Truth. Now, through a series of site-responsive performances and an exhibition at the National Poetry Library, this extraordinary story comes alive for twenty-first century audiences.



Join Will as he falls asleep in the Malvern Hills, dreams of a “fair field full of folk” and embarks on a quest to find Truth. Enter the psychedelic dreamscape of Piers Plowman; a world of inequality, political corruption and spiritual crisis uncannily like our own. The performances draw on five key moments from this epic poem, and will feature theatre, poetry, film and music. The first moment will invite audiences to walk into the Malvern Hills for an outdoor spectacle, returning the poem to its roots in rural Herefordshire, before transferring to Shoreditch – London’s original suburb of sin.

A fair feeld ful of folk fond I ther bitwene –
Of alle manere of men, the meene and the riche,
Werchynge and wandrynge as the world asketh.

Fair Field is Penned in the Margins’ most ambitious live literature project to date, and is the first time that Piers Plowman has been explored in this way. The performances will feature new and original work by Breach Theatre, Annette Brook, Tom Chivers, Steve Ely, Nick Field, Francesca Millican-Slater, The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments and Ross Sutherland. Piers Plowman is as complex, witty and brilliant as The Canterbury Tales, though less well known. Fair Field will restore this important work of medieval English literature to its rightful place – out of the academy and into the modern imagination.



Explore Piers Plowman through items and artefacts that bring the medieval world to life, alongside a curated display from the National Poetry Library’s collection showing how contemporary writers from Seamus Heaney to Patience Agbabi draw inspiration from medieval poetry. The exhibition features new artworks in response to Piers by Larry Achiampong and Nicola Jedrzejczak.

Explore the world of Piers Plowman at thisfairfield.com

For information, photos or interview requests, contact Associate Producer Eleanor Turney: contact@eleanorturney.co.uk



Editors’ notes

Fair Field is conceived and produced by Penned in the Margins; commissioned by Ledbury Poetry Festival and Shoreditch Town Hall; funded by a Strategic Touring Grant from Arts Council England; development funded by Jerwood Charitable Foundation and King’s College London’s Cultural Institute; supported by The National Poetry Library, The Poetry School and Londonist.com.

The five moments can be watched individually or as a cycle across each weekend.

Details of the performances can be found at thisfairfield.com/live-shows


Alongside the performances and exhibitions, Fair Field includes an ambitious education programme:

– Workshops on medieval poetry in primary schools in Herefordshire and London
– Online course with the Poetry School: How to Write Like a Medieval
– Content-rich website featuring essays, blogs, multimedia and an introduction to Piers Plowman by Dr Lawrence Warner of King’s College London
– Poet in Residence opportunity for an emerging writer to shadow the project and create new work


Artists featured in the work

Russell Bender, Co-Artistic Director
Russell is a theatre maker and director, and is Creative Associate of Penned in the Margins. He trained at Ecole Jacques Lecoq. Credits as director include Darknet by Rose Lewenstein (Southwark Playhouse), Kiss of the Earth (UK tour), The Shroud by Siddhartha Bose (Rich Mix / Norfolk & Norwich Festival) and Game of Life by Rose Lewenstein (The Yard). Russell has developed work at BAC, Cambridge Junction and the National Theatre Studio. As staff/assistant director he has worked for the National Theatre and Complicite. He is artistic director of theatre and technology company Potential Difference.

Tom Chivers, Co-Artistic Director
Tom Chivers was born in south London in 1983 and studied Medieval English at St Anne’s, Oxford. Tom is director of Penned in the Margins, an arts producing company that makes new work for performance and the page. Over the last decade he has published over 70 books of poetry, fiction and literary non-fiction, and produced live shows that have toured nationally and internationally to venues including Southbank Centre, Sage Gateshead and NCPA Mumbai. As a poet, Tom has published two collections and two pamphlets. The latest is Dark Islands (Test Centre, 2015). Tom has made perambulatory, site-specific and audio work for LIFT/BAC, Cape Farewell, Humber Mouth Festival and Southbank Centre. His poem ‘The Event’ was turned into an animated film and broadcast by Channel 4. In 2011 he received an Eric Gregory Award; his work has been shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan and Michael Marks Prizes.

Breach Theatre, Writers/performers
Breach is an award-winning multimedia theatre company creating socially engaged, formally innovative live performances that blend subtle humour with a sharp political edge. Breach’s work to date has explored reworking history through performance – from a 1980s riot in a Wiltshire field to a 1960s experiment into teaching dolphins English. Their work has won a Total Theatre Award and a Fringe First at Edinburgh.

Annette Brook, Writer
Annette Brook is a playwright from south London. She is an alumna of the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme and was a Jerwood/Arvon mentee 2015-16. Her play Gala Mae was longlisted for the 2016 Alfred Fagon Award. Other plays include: Make You Mine (Soho Theatre, 2010); Little Baby Nothing (Theatre503, 2013); Halves (White Bear Theatre 2014); The other half (The Feminist Library, 2015) and Epiphany (Horse & Stables, 2017).

Steve Ely, Writer
Steve Ely’s books of poetry include Oswald’s Book of Hours and Werewolf. His latest book, Incendium Amoris, is published this summer. His biographical work, Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire, is an account of the former Poet Laureate’s Yorkshire formation. He teaches creative writing at the University of Huddersfield, where he is Director of the Ted Hughes Network.

Nick Field, Writer/performer
Nick is a writer, performer and musician. His work has been produced and staged at major events and venues, and his residencies and commissions include Keats House and London Metropolitan Archives. As an arts educator he has worked with organisations including City Lit, The Poetry School, Ideas Tap and Apples & Snakes.

Francesca Millican-Slater, Writer/performer
Francesca Millican-Slater is a writer and performer. Following a successful run at Edinburgh Festival she has spent early 2017 touring Stories to tell in the Middle of the Night throughout the West Midlands as part of the Sir Barry Jackson tour, commissioned by Birmingham Rep. In 2015/2016 she was artist-in-residence at the National Waterways Museum. She has been touring My Dearest Girls since 2014 across the country and will continue to do so until 2018.

The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, Musicians
Clare Salaman is drawn to interesting sounds, especially those which include plenty of jangle and scrape. She plays old and unusual instruments in many different contexts, ranging from baroque orchestras to collaborations with Tanzanian and Norwegian traditional musicians. She is the director of The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, which is now the focus of her work.

Leah Stuttard comes from a Lancashire mill town and you can still hear it in her voice. The first medieval music she loved was on scratchy David Munrow LPs which she bought for £1 from the local library. She has played the medieval harp for 20 years, working around the world with groups such as Hesperion (Spain) and Micrologus (Italy).

Viven Ellis was born on an Essex farm, trained as an English teacher, and dreamed of being a performer. A life-changing apprenticeship to folk singer Frankie Armstrong led to the discovery of folk and early music. She sang with early music groups Sinfonye and The Dufay Collective and now works with The Carnival Band.

Ross Sutherland, Writer
Ross Sutherland was born in Edinburgh. He has published the poetry collections Things To Do Before You Leave Town (2009), Twelve Nudes (2010) and Emergency Window (2012), as well as the digital-only collection of sonnets Hyakuretsu Kyaku (2011), all with Penned in the Margins. He has produced work for stage and radio, including Comedian Dies in the Middle of Joke and Standby for the Tape Back Up, as well as the documentaries Every Rendition on a Broken Machine, and Stand By For Tape Back Up (adapted from the stage show). Sutherland also writes and presents the podcast Imaginary Advice.

Larry Achiampong, Fine artist
Larry Achiampong completed a BA in Mixed Media Fine Art at University of Westminster (2005) and an MA in Sculpture at Slade School of Fine Art (2008). He lives and works in London. Larry’s solo and collaborative projects employ imagery, aural and visual archives, live performance and sound to explore ideas surrounding class, cross-cultural and post-digital identity – in particular, dichotomies found within a world dominated by social media and digital frameworks.

Nicola Jedrzejczak, Fine artist
Nicola Jedrzejczak is a Fine Artist based in Ledbury, Herefordshire. She specialises in the practice of book arts. She graduated from Hereford College of Arts in 2015.

Discover more at thisfairfield.com

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