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A Mayflower Play

1620: A New World Odyssey

Members of Harleston Players were joined by children and adults from the town and surrounding area to bring to life the fascinating story of how two brothers from Harleston became some of the first English settlers in America. The script, based on detailed historical research, was written and directed by Eileen Ryan, with David Cumming as producer.

It was a family show with music, dancing and singing, and depicting the diverse group who sailed on the Mayflower – adults and children, profiteers and pilgrims – and the native Americans they encountered on their arrival.

The project set out to throw some light on a part of local history that few people knew much about – Harleston’s link to the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620.

Its ambition was to achieve five different elements that would involve and benefit the local community:

  • New research into people who lived and worked in Harleston in the years leading up to and after the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620;

  • A short booklet featuring this new information;

  • A living history event with short scenes about these characters, performed around the town centre;

  • A unique community-performed play telling the story of the passengers on the Mayflower; and

  • An outreach programme to involve as many local people as possible

It was planned to run during 2020, linked to a national programme of events to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America in autumn 1620. However, as we all know, in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world and all plans had to be put on hold.

It delayed, but did not scupper, the project. As people emerged from lockdown in 2021 it provided a welcome focus to come together and bring to life stories about migration, religious and ethnic tolerance, and the benefits of working together for the greater good.

In the end the play and living history events (there were two, one followed by a procession around the town centre with a scale-model of the Mayflower, musicians, singers, stilt walkers, and performers in costumes) were seen and enjoyed by almost 1000 people, and over 100 people were involved in making it all happen.


The play was made possible thanks to the enormous voluntary commitment of Harleston Players and other people from the community, and financial help from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Harleston Town Council, South Norfolk District Council and Norfolk County Council.


Originally published by Harleston Players:


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