In this blog, our very own Brian Logan, writes about his time at CPT as Artistic Director and his involvement with anti-HS2 campaigns and creating a show about and for the people of Camden.
Human Jam is CPT’s epic new docu-theatre event which digs deep into a small but stubborn community, an £80bn infrastructure project – and the ghosts of Euston past. Click here to find out more.
I’ve been working at CPT for seven years – and HS2 has sounded a low drumbeat in the background, getting louder, throughout that period. When I got the job, this controversial (and fantastically expensive) new railway line was a prospect, a likelihood even – but there was still an active campaign against it, to which CPT lent its support. HS2 threatened major damage to our local community as a new Euston station was constructed in the area. Up and down the proposed line to Birmingham, 80% of the demolition required was to take place here in Camden. Local people felt frustrated and ignored.
In 2017, the project was green-lit by parliament, and in the same year, our local park St James Gardens was closed by HS2. They were going to cut down its trees, brick it over, turn it into a taxi rank. But first they had to dig up the bodies buried under it, relics of a pre-Victorian burial ground that closed in the 1850s. Who knew? – but there were an estimated 63,000 bodies buried there, and this was to be the biggest exhumation project in European history.
At CPT, we always knew we wanted to make a show about our community’s struggle against HS2, but we’d been waiting for the right opportunity. The public interest in the St James Gardens excavations – everyone’s morbid interest when you start talking about digging up and disposing of human remains – felt like the right hook. There were famous people buried there, eye-opening stories to tell. And this baroque undertaking, this heaving up of a community’s dead, felt in some obscure way like the right metaphor for what HS2 is, for how modern Britain goes about its business. We wanted to dig deeper, rustle a few of the skeleton’s in HS2’s closet.
Two years later, we’ve got a show. I’ve spent the intervening period researching, and volunteering on local social history and archaeology projects. If you come to Human Jam, you’ll see an awful picture of me in high-vis and helmet, cleaning the headstones excavated from St James Gardens. We’ve formed a community choir with local people who want to make their voices heard about HS2, after years of feeling pandered to then ignored. We’ll be singing together – songs they’ve written, and songs by the 18th-centry radical (and St James Gardens corpse) Thomas Spence, a campaigner against private ownership of land and a relentless writer of protest songs.
As the show suggests, this story is bigger than HS2 – and Spence’s ideas on land can help explain why. We’ve ended up with a pretty unique docu-theatre / ghost story / community play that shifts shape in as slippery a fashion as the justifications for HS2 keep shifting. Some extraordinary and committed people have contributed to it. We’d love you to come along. We promise to entertain you, pitch you into a beyond-the-grave dimension, and tell you the untold stories of HS2 – in the voices of people who’ve lived them, and are still fighting.