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Getting to know Harold

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Hungerford actor plays Ashmore Green bookseller in From Newbury with Love

“Working with RedCape is a fascinating new process for me and unlike anything I have done in over 30 years of acting, it is very refreshing and inventive,” says 56-year-old Hungerford-based actor Nick Lumley, about working with the Reading-based theatre company and getting to grips with their original creation process and unique visual style.

Nick is currently working with them in devising their new play From Newbury with Love at Greenham Arts, to be performed at the Corn Exchange, from March 9 to 12. The play tells the true story of 71-year-old Harold Edwards and his wife Olive, who lived at Ashmore Green, and their 15-year written correspondence and friendship with the Aidov family in Moldova.

In 1971, during the depths of the Cold War, and prompted by an Amnesty International letter-writing campaign, Harold sent seven-year-old Marina Aidova a postcard that simply read “With love from Newbury, Berks, England, Harold & Olive.”

Marina's father, Slava Aidov, was imprisoned in brutal conditions by the Soviet authorities for writing a leaflet and attempting to acquire a printing press.

In Chisinau, Moldova Marina and her mother Lera were persecuted by the KGB, struggling for food and shunned by fearful friends. Lera Aidova said that receiving the postcard “was like being visited by an angel.”

On the rare occasions that they were allowed to visit Slava in the Siberian gulag, it took a two-day railway journey to reach him, paid for by Lera selling her own blood.

In the exchange of letters Harold and Olive opened their hearts and lives with such wit and generosity, it sustained the Aidova family until the fall of the Soviet regime. The letters stopped when Harold died in 1986.

Nick Lumley plays the part of Harold Edwards. “It's a joy to discover Harold, and I have met some people who came across him or who lived near him,” he says.

Harold's wife Olive is played by Erika Poole. “The fact that it is a true story makes it all the more exciting and challenging,” she says.

“ I am rather in awe of both Olive and Harold as they showed such strong compassion and commitment to a family in Moldova whom they never met.

“Neither of them were in the first flush of youth when this correspondence began and later in the story both had failing health, yet they continued to write to the Aidov family and remained interested in their well-being.”

“I feel very fortunate to be working with such an innovative company as RedCape and their director Claire Coache is inspirational in her approach to the work.

“Together, we experiment with a variety of ways to tell the story, sometimes using text, and sometimes working with puppets or objects to physically create a mood or atmosphere.”

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