Ragroof Theatre was commissioned by Castlepoint Borough council and the Heritage Lottery Fund to write and direct a community play based on the reminiscences of local people. The performance was based on people’s firsthand accounts of the great floods of 1953, on Canvey Island. We worked with people ranging in age from six to eighty-seven, offering theatre workshops, cookery lessons, creative writing and oral history sessions. The 50-strong cast worked on the hour-long show which included text, multimedia, recorded memories and Butoh.

Over a nine-month period we worked with different community groups, involving them in all aspects of the show. For us the key to this project was bridging the gap between different community groups of varying ages and developing ideas that they all enjoyed working on together.

After the amazing time we had meeting people and chatting about their lives and memories, we decided that their spirit was something we wanted to capture. As a result, the play focused on small ideas and recollections rather than material that had previously been published about the floods, evoking an atmosphere of Canvey life in the past and present.

During the writing phase of the production, we continually sought feedback from members of the community on drafts of the script. This ensured that details about the events, fashions and other elements of the show were representative of how people remembered the times. It is in this weaving together of people’s memories and ideas that the show took on its own life – it became a unifying community event for the people of Canvey Island, and left behind a legacy for them to develop.

‘I knew there was something different soon as I opened my eyes; it was as if the air had changed in the room. I dunno – there’s something about water – has a smell to it. I was drawn to the window; well I thought I was still in a dream when I saw it. Nothing but water, water everywhere.’

‘No, no it come in still, it come in awful still and silent like a trick, that’s where people lost their lives… asleep in their beds.’
Chris Hepworth, Canvey Island