“There’s autobiographical performance, and then there’s autobiographical performance by Ruth Mitchell, who weaves personal narratives about family, hopes and dreams with such skill that you’ll want to sit and listen to her stories all night.” (Belinda Dillon)
The Secret Listener
Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, The Secret Listener followed two intertwining strands, the story of Olive Myler, who lived in rural North Devon and played the violin and the autobiographical story of a violin my father was given in the 1950’s. The performance is my search into the stories of both my father’s violin and Olive Myler and takes us on a journey from Vienna to the south west of England.
Just before the war a solitary woman lived in a rural hamlet in North Devon, she never went out and had her groceries delivered. People say she had been a violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra and also worked for MI6 in some capacity. The Secret Listener performance is based on multiple source materials including the story of Olive Myler in the 2005 book Jews in North Devon during the Second World War by Helen Fry. To research Olive’s story I followed a trail through many books, museums, archives and online resources, these sources included
Adams, AJ  Knowle in the Wars, Braunton Museum: N. Devon
Dunlop, Tessa  The Bletchley Girls, Hodder & Stoughton: London
Fry, Edmund David  The Life and Tines of a Knowle Boy, Braunton Museum: N. Devon
Fry, Helen  Jews in North Devon During the Second World War, Halsgrove: Devon
Fry, Helen  Spymaster: The Secret Life of Kendrick, Marranos: London
Hinsley, FH & Alan Stripp  Code Breakers, University Press: Oxford
MacDonogh, Giles  1938 HItler’s Gamble, ebook
Newman, Richard  Alma Rosé: Vienna to Auschwitz, Amadeus Press: Portland
Pidgeon, Geoffrey  The Secret Wireless War: the story of MI6 Communications 1939-1945, Arundel: Richmond
We gathered people’s hidden wartime stories.
Here is an example: The story of Odette Sansom aka Odette Hallowes recorded by Ed Jobling in conversation with Nancy Powell-Brace, owner of Odette’s Tearoom Wellington.
And here is a short film to accompany Odette’s story – created by Ed Jobling working with Forkbeard and Actiontrack
Toured the South West and West Yorkshire in the Autumn and Spring of 2016 supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Theatre West commissioned and produced Homeward Bound in 2014 for their autumn ‘One Day’ season, it was first performed at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.
Homeward Bound looks at the dreams we hold and the cards we get dealt whilst attempting to round the bases of a baseball diamond and reach home. A solo performance inspired by my son’s love of baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers and the team he plays with in the South West Baseball League; interwoven with stories of my own upbringing in a Northern household and the lives of my mother and grandmother. All children have childhood dreams, in Homeward Bound I look at the dreams of my Northern grandmother (see below) and mother and the restrictions they faced and conquered.
What They Said…
***** “Homeward Bound was, without question, one of the best shows I have ever watched.” Rosemary Wagg, Exeunt, read the full Exeunt review here
“fantastically executed and deeply reflective it’s a wonderful play that causes the audience to think back to their own past, family and dreams.” Christy Ku, the Reviews Hub, full review here
Some lovely words about my solo work and writing by Lucien Waugh in this Exeunt article here
Coffee With Vera
Winner of the Critics Choice Wildfire Award Exeter Ignite 2014 and awarded the ‘Intellect’ postgraduate prize for public engagement 2013
Coffee with Vera is a solo performance in the form of a coffee morning. It tells stories about identity and heritage of the Plymouth Synagogue – the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world. The character of Vera Jockleson was created by researching the female voices in the congregation, she co-hosts a coffee morning with Ruth and recounts how this form of social gathering was a monthly event for the Ladies Guild. Through Vera we hear of past events whilst Ruth tries to connect her own history to the vestry by searching for possible Jewish relatives.
‘Ruth Mitchell delivers a masterclass in how autobiographical work can tell a deeply personal story while drawing in the wider world and experience, and without a hint of self-indulgence’ Belinda Dillon, Exeunt Magazine
Click here to read the full Exeunt review within a wider round up of Exeter Ignite
“Really moving, she holds that space with humour and warmth and it’s a really wonderful piece of work…something that was done so simply and so honestly, and that made it beautifully authentic to me…” Culture & Review Show, Phonic fm
Belinda Dillon’s Wildfire Review June 2014
On the set of Little Dorrit in 1987-practically her first job out of drama school- Ruth Mitchell met the peerless character actor Miriam Margolyes. As they both sat in the ‘make-up removal’ room (key to creating the film’s authentic Dickensian aesthetic), Miriam scrutinised Ruth before asking, “Jewish?” To Ruth’s denial, Miriam replied, “With that name – and that face- you should be!”
And so began Ruth’s investigation into whether the girl who should be Jewish could be Jewish, leading her from records offices to censuses to ancestry.com, from personal memory through family myth to the creative springboard of ‘what if…’ to the vestry of Exeter Synagogue, where she shares with us her story over coffee and home-baked cake. Using photographs and marriage certificates, recipe books and playbills pulled out from a suitcase in front of her – and via the character of Vera Jockleson, Chair of the Ladies Guild and consummate coffee morning hostess- Ruth fuses autobiography and history to create a subtly moving meditation on the nature of identity and heritage. Seamlessly entwined is a fascinating insight into the Plymouth Synagogue and the Jewish diaspora in the South West.
This quiet piece is at its most powerful when Mitchell is herself, guiding us through her story with warmth and humour, especially when the desire for a fresh start or the cruelties of persecution have necessitated slippages that are hard to trace.
Coffee with Vera was practice as research for Ruth’s MRes in Theatre & Performance at Plymouth University
Dreadnought South West
2015 -present. I am an associate artist with Dreadnought South West, throughout 2018 we toured The Cause which was part of their Rebellious Sounds project. An imagined meeting between the two extraordinary womens suffrage leaders Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst. Asking what happens when two such forces meet? Read my blog about the 2015 development work here. For a review from Remote Goat click here.
Part Exchange Co
2007 – 2012 co-director of Part Exchange Co (www.partexchangeco.org.uk) a company producing large scale site specific performances and events.
- 2011 Drive in Deco transforming an inner city car park into a drive in cinema – with a difference. An Arts Council, Heritage Lottery funded event. www.hiddencity.org.uk Winner of the Vice Chancellor’s Enterprise Award 2011, University of Plymouth
- 2010 Devonport Guildhall re-opening; commissioned by Real Ideas Organisation to produce performative tours of the newly re- vamped Guildhall in Devonport.
- 2010 Downtown Dash; a series of script in hand readings that celebrated a wartime dash through the blitz. Partnering with the Theatre Royal Playwrights Forum the staged readings were performed over 2 nights in the Drum Theatre.
- 2008 Hidden City Festival; a heritage/arts festival that produced 21 new pieces of work within the city of Plymouth over one week. www.hiddencityfestival.org.uk An Arts Council and Heritage Lottery funded festival.