Hoard: Rediscovered review – treasure tales from Sara Pascoe, Isy Suttie and more | Theatre

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A metal detectorist from the West Midlands lists his day’s discoveries at the beginning of Hoard: Rediscovered. There’s a penny, a few buttons and bits of scrap. People here have “detected for donkey’s years”, he says, and “never found a single item”. His words highlight the unprecedented, and unimagined, nature of Terry Herbert’s find in July 2009 when his metal detector beeped over a seventh-century haul so magnificent that some archaeologists wept when they first saw it.

That ancient booty, named the Staffordshire hoard, is the subject of Unearthed, a documentary drama streamed online by the New Vic theatre, and accompanied by 11 short films written by Sara Pascoe, Lemn Sissay, Isy Suttie and April De Angelis, among others, which use the hoard as their creative kindling.

Unearthed, written and directed by Theresa Heskins, the theatre’s artistic director, takes us from the logistics of getting the buried treasure out of the earth to expert theories on why it was put there and how it could transform our understanding of the dark ages.

Heskins interviewed key players around the hoard, including Herbert, but uses actors to animate their words on film; even she is played by a performer (Bryonie Pritchard) while David Nellist, as Herbert, is an almost comical everyman (“Bloomin’ hell,” he says, about first finding the gold and silver stash).

Comical everyman ... David Nellist as Terry Herbert.
Comical everyman … David Nellist as Terry Herbert. Photograph: Andrew Billington

It is a novel way to bring history to life – dramatised narration rather than re-enactment that looks like a real-life documentary. It risks a little too much resemblance to an educational video at times, and the actors frequently repeat themselves, perhaps in an endeavour to capture the raw, unrehearsed cadences of everyday speech.

But what it does successfully is capture the excitement and breathless wonder of such an extraordinary discovery. “It was like the Tutankhamun moment,” says Simon Cane (Romayne Andrews), an expert from Birmingham Museums Trust.

It highlights the hoard’s enigma too: What is it? Why was it buried? Was it the “bling” of war? Was it battlefield spoils, a ransom or a ritual deposit? Many mysteries remain and they fire the imaginations of the monologue films that follow.

All directed by Gemma Fairlie, each work incorporates the treasure in one way or another. Sometimes the hoard itself speaks from beneath the earth. Other times a garnet, having travelled from India, tells its story. There is a modern retelling of Beowulf, another with a talking dragon. Many are spoken against a black backdrop and accompanied by crisply ringing background sounds (birdsong, a ticking clock or even food being chewed by an irate widow in Pascoe’s Hoarder, who is unearthing nuts hidden by squirrels in the ground but is unable to find her own buried treasure).

Novel way to bring history to life ... Hoard: Rediscovered.
Novel way to bring history to life … Hoard: Rediscovered. Photograph: Andrew Billington

Sometimes a fantastically imaginative idea is better than its enactment. The best among them is De Angelis’s nine-minute film, Rune, set in a school and delivered from the mouth of a gobby teenager, Marnie (Crystal Condie), intent on disrupting a lesson about the hoard. Teenage cynicism drips off her words and she is the arch classroom rebel, full of unruly adolescent wit before a Damascene moment, all excellently played out by Condie.

Suttie’s Half a Horse is another highlight at just six minutes; a wife (Paula James) is searching for the secret lover who gave her a gleaming gold seahorse as a token of his love before she moves home and loses connection with him forever. Her love is like “glimpsing sunshine and realising I have been living in the grey” she says, with aching passion, knowing it has left her reach.

Magic is Darren Sharp’s eight-minute love letter to the joy of excavation. Nellist is back, this time playing Pete, an archaeologist who tells us of his boyhood love of digging as he tucks into a sandwich and reflects on the bigger joys of discovering the hoard – although he also says that its pieces “were meant to be hidden”. Its burial is as vital as its discovery, he suggests.

At the end of Unearthed, a character reflects on the value of what remains of us all, centuries on, and what will remain of our own, ever more virtual world. “Shards of Google,” says someone. It makes you think.

• Available online until 1 December.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Hoard: Rediscovered review – treasure tales from Sara Pascoe, Isy Suttie and more | Theatre

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