One man had a dream of creating a utopia in the centre of Dartmoor, a new colony on the model of 18th century Canada, turning Dartmoor’s rain-swept blanket bog into a rolling prairie of wheat. A new play Hinterland presented by MED Theatre follows the extraordinary true story of Thomas Tyrwhitt who, while he never fully realised his agricultural ambitions, left his mark on Dartmoor, not only in the building of the iconic War Depot – now Dartmoor Prison – to house prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars, but more fundamentally through the creation of the mountain community of Princetown that still surrounds it today.
As Tyrwhitt goes about his grand design with the backing of the then Prince of Wales, engineering a multicultural society via the influx of his friends and the foreign prisoners on parole in the area, he comes into conflict with an intricate network of local beliefs and land rights. The scattered indigenous inhabitants have ways of coping with the hardship of Dartmoor’s environment – involving shape-shifting and vampires – which challenge Tyrwhitt’s understanding of human suffering, and are in turn challenged by the development which Tyrwhitt offers.
In Barnabas walking with a stick with Sophia leading him
BARNABAS: What have we here, Sophie?
SOPHIA: We’ve come to the fair, Father?
HARRIET: Grandfather, let me take you round the stalls.
BARNABAS: What fair? Widecombe Fair? Goosey Fair?
SOPHIA: No, this is Prince Town Fair, Father.
BARNABAS: Prince Town Fair? What’s that?
SOPHIA: You know perfectly well that Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt has obtained a Royal charter for a fair at Prince Town as well as a market.
BARNABAS: This is what the world is coming to!
A fair in the middle of Leaman’s
Summer pastures! Strange folk trampling on
Butter grasses. And all because of
Thomas Tyrwhitt, that ignorant fool
Who understands as much of Dartmoor
As a brown trout knows about dry land.
I say again, I say to you all,
Whoever is out there listening –
Beware the curse of Thomas Tyrwhitt.
Come he has to destroy our customs!
Come he has to enclose our grazing!
Come he has to corrupt our children!
SOPHIA:Father, you are making a complete fool of yourself. And me, your daughter. And Harriet, your granddaughter. Everybody is staring at us. Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt is just over there.
THOMAS: Barnabas, good afternoon to you.
BARNABAS; Is that Thomas Tyrwhitt?
THOMAS: Indeed it is sir. I’m sorry that the Fair doesn’t appear to be to your liking.
BARNABAS: It’s you who aren’t to my liking, you and all your works.
THOMAS: Perhaps if you could see the acres
Of linseed and wheat rippling in the
Sunshine, and the grand moorstone buildings
Of Prince Town shrugging the hailstones off,
And all the colour and pageantry
Of market stalls and fair scaffolding,
You would feel differently.
BARNABAS: Are you mocking my blindness?
THOMAS: Of course not.
BARNABAS: If I could see you I’d thrash the life out of you with my stick. What good did your improvements do my daughter Tryphena, when she worked in your mansion?
SOPHIA: Father, no! Not that again.
THOMAS: I am truly sorry about Tryphena.
SOPHIA: Father, come on, I’m taking you home.
THOMAS: Before you go, please listen to this.
Everything I’ve done, at Tor Royal
And at Prince Town, I’ve done in the name
Of improvement, providing the means
To make it impossible for what
Happened to her to be repeated.
BARNABAS: Don’t give me that. You did it for gain.
Everything you’ve done, you’ve done for power,
Power and gain, and your corrupt master
Who gave his name to this fantasy.
Lead me home, girl; I can’t abide him.
THOMAS: Is it really what you want, for the world
To go on thinking that Tryphena
Was a vampire? Is it? Your daughter?
Is this the custom you want to keep
That I’m destroying?
BARNABAS: Lead me home girl.
SOPHIA: Walk home yourself, I never want to
Have anything more to do with you!
Sophia walks away
Barnabas begins to try to walk away, stumbling a little
Harriet runs across to him
HARRIET: Here, give me your hand, Grandfather. I’ll take you home.
BARNABAS: You’re a good girl Harriet.
Sophia suddenly comes back
SOPHIA: Here..Give him to me.
Out Sophia leading Barnabas with Harriet behind
Hinterland was toured in March 2010, including a performance in Princetown at the school.