AHRC Filming and Development Day

Picture shows a group photo of the Beat of Our Hearts team.
Left to right (back): Charlotte Jones, Richard Vytniorgu, Fred Cooper, Kieron Jecchinis, Naomi Turner, Scott Hurran, Zoe Fitzgibbon, Natalie McGrath. Left to right (front): Andy Hunt, Sophie Cottle, Frewyn Thursfield, Rebecca Todd, Elijah W. Harris

The new year brought with it the excitement of knowing that soon LGBT+ History Month would be upon us and the Northcott Theatre would be staging new histories of LGBTQIA+ loneliness. As I write, we have just over a week before Natalie McGrath’s The Beat of Our Hearts premieres.

Soon after rehearsals began, early in January, videographers Biggerhouse Film came down to the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter on behalf of the AHRC, where rehearsals were in full swing. The footage they captured will be used to make a short film about our project which will be launched in May, alongside films from the other EDI Engagement Fellows, who were funded by the same scheme.

Two people wearing blue standing next two each other, reading from scripts. On the left, Elijah wears a cap and his head is bowed. On the right, Rebecca wears a scarf and places a hand on Elijah's shoulder.

This was the first time Charlotte and I had met the actors and some of the creative team, and it was great to see a couple of the work-in-progress scenes from Natalie’s play performed. The acting team brings together a range of intergenerational talent and a keen sensitivity for the nuances of different queer identities. The four characters – Dove, Val, Luca, and Quill – became embodied before us as the performers sought to test out the characters’ personalities and relationships with each other.

One of the things that struck me most about the day was getting to see how the Barnfield Theatre room that the company was using had been transformed as their development deepened. Walls were decorated with evidence of their discussions. Key LGBTQIA+ events in history were outlined; there were mood boards for each character’s wardrobe and background; and there were photos printed from Pinterest which seemed to illustrate the team’s imagination and thinking around the environment brought forth in The Beat of Our Hearts.

Six people stand together around a table strewn with papers and pen. Some of them look at each other, some look down at the table.

As we’re learning, a lot goes into producing a play, especially one that is being produced and developed at a relatively rapid pace. But with a stellar creative team steering us, we have every confidence that the final thing is going to be every bit as thought-provoking and dynamic as we expect.

Tickets are still on sale, so if you haven’t bought one already, you can still do so via the Northcott’s website. The play will be staged from 3rd-5th Feb, including a matinee performance on Saturday 5th Feb, and a free post-show discussion on Friday 4th Feb.


Stock photo of a pen writing in blank ink on ruled paper

Poems by Sheena Sen: The Beat of My Heart

In a second post featuring poetry by one of our workshop participants, Sheena Sen, Sheena gets to the heart of the project by personalising our project title and, indeed, the title of Natalie McGrath’s play. In her earlier poem, Sheena explores the emotions and thoughts tied up with experiences of loneliness. By contrast, ‘The Beat of My Heart’ is a heartfelt exploration of what motivates and drives the speaker. The beating heart is often a symbol of warmth, passion, and energy. In this poem, Sheena uses repetition and rhyme to create a closely packed and punchy piece that really moves us.

This heart beats for Loyalty

and too for acceptance

with or without commonality

it beats for simplicity

in a world full of complexity


for the sounds of my family

for lost love and last loves

for the lost and the found

for kisses once dreamed of

and gendered equality


It beats for diversity

to be brave and show courage

in the face of adversity

it beats to end prejudice

and be fierce in the fight

for all human rights

like those who precede me


It beats for memory of time

for belonging and longing

for all that is certain

and all that is not it beats

for the breath that rests

between life death

and freedom


Asked to reflect on her poem, Sheena has added:

I took the title of the play and thought about what it all is, what is the stuff we are made of in our beating heart of existence. Your project and research is valuable as it creates a space for the questions inside us. It allows space to breathe in integrity and with as much honesty as we have in us, when we express what it means to be lonely or to belong in a place or a family that expression is real . I felt like an imposter at the start of the sessions as my personal journey hasn’t been difficult and yet I realised I too have felt isolated and a sense of loneliness at one time in my life. I recognised others words were like mirrors as they resonated in the story of my life. It made me write.

We’re very glad it did.


To cite, please credit Sheena Sen.


— Richard Vytniorgu