Urban Sketching at Reading Abbey with Reading Urban Sketchers and Rabble Theatre

So the whole lockdown thing got lifted - very gradually, very carefully - but then we were able to (also gradually and carefully) hug loved ones again, meet for tea in the garden and browse for new books in person. Best news. 

And then I got a notification on my Facebook feed and my heart nearly went through the fricking roof. 

My local Urban Sketchers' Chapter in Reading posted a new event, the first in a year, AT READING ABBEY RUINS. And we were being asked to sketch the rehearsals of a NEW PLAY produced by Rabble Theatre. About HENRY VIII and Reading's last abbot, HUGH FARINGDON. 

This Medieval and Tudor history nerd nabbed her ticket as quickly as it could load on the screen.

I wandered up to the ruins, sketchpad tucked under my arm, and chose a shaded spot where I'd sit for the next two hours. 

The play looks fantastic. It's about the struggles faced by Hugh Faringdon, who was Abbot of Reading Abbey during Henry VIII's reign. He was supported by Henry during his early years, but things started to take a tumble when Hugh Faringdon got tangled up in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Hugh was charged with treason and in 1539 - along with two other religious men - was hung, drawn and quartered at the gateway to his abbey. 

I had to be quick. The nature of rehearsals means that people are moving around quite a lot but then again, a rehearsal of the same scene again later gives you another chance to capture more detail. 

I managed to sketch this scene, where Faringdon is confronted about the possibility of his treason. 

Urban Sketching at Reading Abbey with Rabble Theatre. Image: © Jo Romero

 I started sketching the people first, drawing loose shapes in pencil to convey the positions on the stage and then added in the clothing and other details afterwards in pen, as they were walking around. Once that scene was finished, I set to work filling in the chairs around the stage, the lighting and the stage and the abbey surroundings. The sketch took me just over an hour, leaving me with another hour to complete a sketch of two more actors, and a bit of the abbey background.

Urban Sketching at the Abbey © Jo Romero

Finally we had a throwdown, where we all look at each others' sketches - the actors had a look too!

Urban Sketching Throwdown © Jo Romero

It was a beautifully warm, sunny day and I just loved sketching within the ruined abbey walls and witnessing scenes and conversations that could have been played out in real life right where I was sitting.

Thank you to my local sketching group the Reading Urban Sketchers' Chapter for organising the event. Join us for our next event or keep in touch through our Facebook group and do have a look at The Last Abbot - tickets are still available at the time of writing this post. 

Liked this? You might also like 5 Stories from Reading Abbey and Treason at Reading Abbey: The Case of Thomas Kerver, 1444. 

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