Play History concerns the historical development of a particular landscape and the social, political and economic implications that inform it.

Told from the perspective of a wandering narrator, who has arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne by accident, the film is a rumination on the interconnectedness of things. It comprises one half of a master's degree thesis, and was completed alongside and in relation to a written component, titled 'Patrick Keiller's "Robinson" Trilogy: Revising and Expanding the Essayistic'.

Filming began on May 6, 2012. All footage was completed before a script was written. Below, stills from the film are accompanied by the text that formed its narration. Where possible, lines from the original script that were cut from the final film are denoted in grey. Click on any image to view a larger version.

To view the film proper, click here; for a version in which the landscapes speak for themselves, click here. There is also an annotated version here.

It was during the early hours of a Sunday morning that we happened upon the first of many images by which we would later remember our short visit to Tyneside:
that of a young woman vacuuming the empty interior of a bookmaker’s.  

In the morning calm, this ghostly figure embodied a quiet simplicity.  Upon closer inspection, however, we observed that she also wore the uniform of a well-known fast food chain.
Sunday, it seemed, had become the day not of rest, but of the second job.
We had arrived in Newcastle the night before by accident, due to a railway signalling failure.
Despite its particular histories and architectures, the city appeared to have become as homogenised by the same forces as any other.

We had decided to circumnavigate the vicinity until the first available train the following morning, but saw enough to admire about the place that we decided to stay until late afternoon. 
Upon arrival, we had caught glimpse of the iconic Tyne Bridge and the five Olympic rings that had temporarily been attached to it. 
We recalled a conversation with a friend, in which was noted that while on the run up to the Olympics the media’s buzzword was “security”, it had never been specified – perhaps for superstitious reasons – against what or whom security was needed.
Our friend had reflected that until terrorism penetrated the suburbs, or at least the idea of a suburban England, we had little to worry about.

We replied that the same, of course, could be said of Tesco. 

We learned that from the Romans the city had been left Hadrian’s Wall and its policies of exclusion and territorialism.
From the Saxons had been left the castle keep and militarist expansion. 
We wondered if these two historical relics gave any indication of the principles upon which the city rests today...

Travelling on foot, we found much space in which to become occupied.
We mused that throughout history, it has been the ongoing project of any ruling class to present the idea that no further progress can possibly be made beyond the here and now.

Time and again the exploited classes have rejected this. Our own ruling elite, meanwhile, will have us believe that some golden past is desirable and even recoverable, when in fact the whole system as we know it needs to be abolished: its trades, its hierarchies, its universities; the fundamental preconditions of its existence.
Though it was beyond the scope of our own brief stay, we imagined a different project, aimed at reinvigorating the sense that an alternative future was indeed still possible.

We expected any such project would be strengthened by collaboration and participation. 
It would firstly resist what we called a postcard pictorialism, denying vantage points from which a panorama could aestheticise or harmonise social tensions, and would secondly look wherever possible at the interconnectedness of things.

We were told that the River Tyne’s industrial development during the 19th Century was the work of William, later Lord Armstrong.
On the western fringe of the city is Elswick, whose Victorian terraces were built to accommodate the tens of thousands of people who moved there to work on the riverbank.
Today, Elswick’s statistics point to relative and significant impoverishment.

Before Armstrong and industrialisation, we learned, the Tyne was largely undredged and unnavigable. 
From the 16th Century, skilled boaters called keelmen had been responsible for the transportation of coal from the riverbanks to awaiting ships.
The keelmen were noted for their solidarity. They were repeatedly militant when protesting their lack of legal protection against forced recruitment into the Navy.
When the Admiralty disregarded such legal protection, employing Press Gangs to search ports and towns, halls and houses for men deemed suitable for naval service, the keelmen and their families fought back. To the local press and community, they were heroes. 

Technological advancements proved more difficult to resist.
The erection of staiths, the formation of the railway, and the replacement of the Tyne Bridge with what is now the Swing Bridge, eventually made the keelmen’s trade obsolete. 


Following his part in such advancements, William Armstrong turned to the armaments and later naval guns trade.
We discovered from one plaque that he died in “well-earned tranquillity” aged 90, in Cragside, his estate north of the city, following “a lifetime of outstanding achievement”.    

The keelmen are remembered today by the now-disused Keelmen's Hospital on City Road, built in 1701, and “The Keel Row”, a traditional song whose name was adopted by a Wetherspoon bar situated in an entertainment complex in the city centre, whose management, we had read the night before, reserve the right to refuse admission without a reason.
Neighbouring the Keelman Hospital is a Salvation Army centre, from which you can view the old Cooperative Wholesale Society warehouse, now the Malmaison, a hotel whose cheapest room is over one hundred pounds per night.

Along the same road, we saw a declaration of land ownership, which offered the space to anyone willing to part with enough money.


South of the Tyne is Gateshead. 

In its town centre, we discovered the development of a new retail, business, entertainment and residential complex.

We learned that it would replace a now-demolished multi-storey car park, which had been made famous by a murder scene in the 1971 film, Get Carter.
The developer of the new complex is Spenhill, a subsidiary of Tesco. 
We took the Metro, a light rail system that serves Tyne & Wear, from Gateshead to Kingston Park, a suburb four miles northwest of Newcastle city centre, having been told the UK’s largest Tesco store is to be found there.

Tesco began life in Hackney, London, in 1919.

Recalling news coverage of Hackney during the riots of 2011, we wondered if the spring of some genuine alternative to the ongoing social crisis might be found there.

Pondering ways in which this might be the case, we made our way back.
Meandering through Newcastle to the rail station, we happened upon a road sign that appealed to our current thoughts.

Perhaps, we mused, it should be taken as a beckoning of sorts...