A MOUNTAIN BIRTH is the working title of my new play about the life and politics of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the possibility of achieving utopia.
Coleridge was a young firebrand in the incendiary and turbulent political climate of the 1790s, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. In 1794, in his early 20s, Coleridge and fellow poet Robert Southey together devised the idea of establishing a new community built on utopian ideals of democracy and equality, called the “Pantisocracy”, in the wilds of Pennsylvania. The plan never came to fruition, as the huge practical obstacles to establishing a settlement in the wilderness, combined with a lack of funds, ultimately defeated them. But in the meantime the poets married two sisters, Sarah and Edith Fricker, principally in the belief that these sturdy and practical women would be the most suitable to travel with them to the “new world”. When the dream failed, Coleridge was locked into what would become a deeply unhappy marriage.
A MOUNTAIN BIRTH looks at how this dream of impossible utopia echoed throughout Coleridge's later life; and also plays with imagined versions of what might have unfolded if the two poets had made it to the new world with their families after all. The play explores ideas of reconnecting with the natural world, and what this might mean then and now; the idea of utopia, of leaving it all behind and starting again from scratch; social injustice and inequality; the value of poetry; and what duty an artist has to provide for their family vs being true to their artistic instincts.
In this project I seek to explore how theatrical forms could be used to bring to life a historical narrative for a new audience - transported far from the realm of dusty biography, and made to feel urgent and thrilling through a contemporary staging featuring sound, music, movement and more.
The early development of A MOUNTAIN BIRTH has been funded by an Athenaeum Award research grant from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, as part of which the first draft was workshopped by RCS students in partnership with the MA Classical & Contemporary Text course at RCS in August 2018, directed by Heather Knudtsen. The play is now undergoing further development.