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Henry Darke: 'The London riots inspired my play about Cornwall'

Writer Henry Darke explains how he felt a strong connection with the rioters from his home in Cornwall

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Oliver Bennett and Florence Roberts rehearsing Booby's Bay
© Leon Wills

Growing up in Cornwall you feel powerless. People invade your home, treat it like a theme park, then disappear. When the 2011 London riots happened, and I saw how the media reacted to it, I felt a strong connection with the rioters; that they were disenfranchised, without a voice, and reacting out of frustration. The event gave me the sense that what I felt growing up was not limited to Cornwall, but a national and global issue. The riots became the inspiration for Booby's Bay, my debut full-length play that opens at the Finborough this month.

People go to Cornwall for myths and legends. When they drive into Padstow they don't see the council estate that all the local people live in behind the town . Tourists get the ferry to Rock, where the elite have holiday homes hidden behind towering sand dunes; but they don't go to Roche, and Illogan, deprived ex-mining towns that rank among the poorest in Europe, according to European Union subsidies. The regions are ignored, but I believe, no place is a bigger symbol for the injustices in the UK, than Cornwall.

The idea of Cornwall as a deeply rural unspoiled place is a myth

Since the financial crash more people have moved to Cornwall because they can't afford to live in the cities, an ageing population buy two homes; renting one as a bed and breakfast at lucrative rates, or to secure a future for their offspring. Fortress-like holiday homes are rented out for seven grand a week. I now live in London, where the problems are the same, young people making just enough money to pay rent, property seen as assets for foreign investors, forcing the prices up. A 'closed shop' atmosphere.

The idea of Cornwall as a deeply rural unspoiled place is a myth, it is one of the most highly populated rural areas in the UK. In Cornwall only 30 per cent of the intensive new builds and the Duke of Cornwall's Poundbury estates are affordable to local people. Young couples are pushed out of their own communities, into the periphery.

It is extremely rare to see Cornish people on a London stage

The mental picture we have of Cornwall is of glorious beauty and unspoiled landscapes. A place to have fun in the sun. The reality is that tourism creates low paid and menial seasonal work, and managerial roles such as chefs, maître D's, go to those from outside. The BBC have a regional remit to include 50 per cent local talent when they make Poldark, but that includes limited creative, managerial personnel.

Henry Darke

Cornwall is plundered for its natural beauty, but the lives of normal Cornish people are completely ignored. It is extremely rare to see Cornish people on a London stage and I feel proud to have given an authentic human voice to a place and people I know.

The sense of rebellion among young people nationally is much stronger than it was two years ago. People are fed up with austerity and the lie of trickle down economics. There is a growing sense of regionalism throughout Europe. A sense that in the absence of government intervention we will make change ourselves. Everyone has a line in the sand. Act one of my play is the day that Huck has had enough. He doesn't know how, or what he's going to do. But he's going to do something. Before it's too late.

Booby's Bay runs at the Finborough Theatre from 1 February until 24 February with previews from 30 January.