Dai Smith takes aim WHEN writer and composer TimRiley decided to commemorate the bicentenary of a famous British military battle, he knew that he wanted it to be more than a straightforward re-enactment.
So his production, Over The Hills And Far Away, which will be staged at Cardiff Castle this weekend, will be more like "a live action radio play with lots of music".
Using the voices of actors, specially-composed dramatic music and fully-costumed re-enactors (with live musket and cannon fire), the drama will tell the story of the battle for Fort Detroit through the eyes of a Welsh soldier in the 41st Welch Regiment. The year is 1812 and newlyrecruited Private John Dean finds himself over the hills and far away on the southern borders of Canada as America once again declares war on the British.
Despite being hugely outnumbered, with decisive action the regiment, assisted by Canadian militia and Native Americans, manage to take Fort Detroit.
Much to his surprise, John Dean (who is based on a real person) finds himself a hero.
This was a key event in the war as it enabled Canada to remain a separate country from the USA.
The American colours surrendered to the 41st Welch Regiment now reside in Firing Line - The Museum of the Welsh Soldier at Cardiff Castle.
Cardiffbased Riley has been working on the project in collaboration with the 41st Re-enactment Society, The Firing Line Museum and the Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Studies at The Atrium.
Staged to coincide with the bicentenary of the War of 1812, it has posed quite a challenge for Dai Smith its creator.
"The aim was to put together something that not only told the story but was entertaining as well," says Riley.
"We didn't want it to be just another re-enactment. This is much more than that. Because of the numbers involved there is a lot of co-ordination and we won't actually be able to have a full rehearsal until the night before the first show, so I'm sure the nerves will be jangling before the first performance takes place."
To gain inspiration for the story, Riley dug around and unearthed John Dean - a pivotal player in the battle for Fort Detroit.
"People love human stories and we think this is a great one," explains the writer, whose last production Another Bite Of The Apple was a collaboration with Valleys playwright Frank Vickery.
"John Dean was a private in the 41st Welch Regiment.
"Two days before the siege he and a colleague were posted to a bridge by the Detroit River to act as pickets (lookouts) and monitor any advancing aim American troops.
"When they turned up these two guys astonishingly held off hundreds of American soldiers for several hours.
"His colleague was killed, but John Dean was captured and subsequently rescued when the British, with the aid of Canadian militia and Native Americans, won the Battle of Fort Detroit.
"What you will see at Cardiff Castle is this story unfolding in front of your eyes."
Riley says the event will use every inch of the castle terrain.
"Much of the action will be in the distance so you won't always necessarily be able to see people close up, but the soundtrack of spoken word and music will enable you to follow what is going on," explains the 46-year-old. …