2019 // 17′ // HD // UK // workprojects.org.uk/a-role-to-play

directed, produced and edited by
Esther Johnson

Stephen Cotton
Adrian Drury
Jeanette Haigh
Serena Hammond
Dennis Skinner

Dominic Green
Esther Johnson

sound design
Chu-Li Shewring

sound recording
Esther Johnson
Darryl Peat

Flow my Tears (Lachrimae Pavane)
by John Dowland

performed and arranged by
Adam D J Taylor

thanks to
Freedom Centre users, volunteers and staff
Bolsover Castle
English Heritage
Bernard Haigh
John Platts
Past Lives Project
Jaimie Boxx
Shealeigh Clark
Emily Tubb
and the community of Bolsover

executive producers
Amy Smith for Junction Arts
Abigail Addison, Gary Thomas for Animate Projects

supported by
Arts Council England
Jerwood Arts
Animate Projects

Working with Freedom Community Project adult reading group members, food bank users and volunteers, a ROLE to PLAY illuminates experiences of contemporary working life in post-industrial Bolsover, a Derbyshire constituency where coal was once king.

The film experiments with methods of co-creation, radical documentary theatre and oral testimony, with project participants storytelling privileged over the questioning/answering scenario of traditional documentary. The title echoes the participatory film process, and also the roles everyone takes in their working and non-working lives.

Made in direct response to the increasing numbers of unemployment and zero hour contracts across the UK, the film explores the realities and struggles that some residents of Bolsover have encountered in gaining and sustaining employment amidst the town’s post-mining legacy of deindustrialisation.

We hear the lived experiences and dreams of town residents including:

Stephen Cotton whose engagement with the Freedom Community Project began as a client of the food bank; going on to volunteer and then secure a job there.

Adrian Drury a freelance tattooist and zero-hour contract worker. He also plays electric guitar and has been in several bands.

Jeanette Haigh a retired primary school teacher who runs Freedom Community Project’s weekly Bolsover reading group.

Serena Hammond a performing arts student who has been a carer for her mother Linda, a member of Bolsover reading group, since she was a teenager.

Dennis Skinner trade unionist, ex-miner, and MP for Bolsover from 1970—2019.

Themes include positive/negative work experiences, volunteering, lack of work, zero-hours contracts, unemployment, and the barrier that low reading and writing skills can have on work.

Esther has produced a newspaper, ‘Class Work Tribune’, which features work by the reading group, material from the film, and a newly commissioned poem by Ian McMillan, Here are the Words  in the Reading Bank.


a ROLE to PLAY has been supported by WORK an ambitious and innovative practice development programme devised by Animate Projects to explore ideas and realities of what ‘work’ means for the way we live today.

Four contemporary moving image artists were selected to create films in partnership with one of four Midlands based organisations: Dryden Goodwin with QUAD Derby // Jenny Holt with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art Thrapston // Esther Johnson with Junction Arts Chesterfield // Adam Lewis-Jacob with Vivid Projects Birmingham


WORK · Assembly Rooms, plus artist Q&A, Bolsover 12.06.20 19:00 — POSTPONED dates TBC

a ROLE to PLAY · plus artist Q&A Bolsover Civic Society Bolsover Library 16.05.20 10:30 — POSTPONED dates TBC

WORK · online premiere, 01.05.20 International Workers’ Day — films online from 09:00, plus live artist Q&A via Zoom at 19:00

WORK · Titchmarsh Clubroom Kettering 14.03.20 19:00

a ROLE to PLAY · plus artist introduction, Freedom Centre, Bolsover 03.03.20 11:30

WORK · plus artist Q&A, QUAD, Derby 28.11.19 18:30


WORK · Vivid Projects Birmingham 03—25.04.20 — POSTPONED dates TBC


a ROLE to PLAY · XXI IOHA International Oral History Association Conference — Harmony and Disharmony: Bringing Together Many Voices National Library, Singapore 22—26.06.20 — POSTPONED until 2021 dates TBC


a ROLE to PLAY: contemporary working lives in Bolsover Tribune Magazine first published online on International Workers’ Day 01.05.20


Class Work Tribune 2020, 16-page newspaper edited by Esther Johnson, published to accompany the film a ROLE to PLAY

Class Work Tribune Newspaper


Class Work Tribune Newspaper