Presented as part of New Vic Theatre’s Hoard: Resdiscovered, Hoarder is a brief window into the mind of Mildreth, the Anglo-Saxon widow of a goldsmith, desperately searching for his hidden gold. Written by Sara Pascoe and performed by Gwawr Loader, Hoarder is a spirited piece about the fine line between a dream and an obsession.
The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest yet discovered mound of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork, and there is a great deal of speculation due to its exact origin and the purposes of many of the items retrieved. Pascoe’s script imagines a possible explanation for the Hoard’s existence: a miserly goldsmith stealing metal from the forge and squirrelling it away from anyone who might seek to steal it from him. With her husband now deceased, Mildreth’s search to find his treasure has led her down the same path of madness and jealousy that led to his end. As she unravels before our eyes, gradually she explains how she ended up wandering the wilderness, digging up nuts and declaring squirrels “[her] enemies”.
Gwawr Loader’s performance as the eccentric Mildreth is energetic, slightly unhinged, and engaging. It’s easy for actors to fall into the cliche of playing ‘mad’ but Loader approaches the character with empathy, seemingly keeping Mildreth’s hope at the very core of her behaviour. Paranoia and obsession drive Mildreth to extremes. In the moments where Mildreth talks about the escape the gold provided early on, and the excitement it brought with it, it’s clear that this is a person who desperately holds onto these memories. It’s not about the materials for her, it’s about the possibility of an escape from the bleak life and unsatisfying marriage that the gold could provide.
Pascoe uses squirrels hiding nuts as a motif throughout the short piece, a clear parallel with Mildreth and her husband’s behaviour. Even small directorial details, like Mildreth grotesquely chomping nuts throughout as if to make a point to the squirrels, point towards the overarching theme of jealousy. If Mildreth can’t have her hoard, her hope for the future, her means of survival in harder times to come, then nobody else can either. Certainly not the squirrels at least.
Interestingly, this could be read as a comment on wealth hoarding in the context of modern capitalism. Mildreth notes early on that when stealing the gold from his place of work, her husband would pin the blame for the missing pieces on whatever new apprentice had come by. To reap the profits of the gold, he must betray his fellow worker and deprive him of his living. Similarly, Mildreth steals the nuts from the squirrels to fuel her energy during her manic hunt for the treasure, meaning that those squirrels are likely to die when the Winter comes and they find their nut stores depleted.
The very final line of Hoarder is Mildreth accusing the audience of wanting to take her bag of nuts before hissing “Don’t care, got more”. For one to profit, they must steal from another, both Mildred and her husband adding more and more to their ever growing stockpiles that vastly outstrip their needs.
Overall, I find Hoarder to be an unusual, if intense piece. At times it can perhaps benefit from a change in pace, or a shift from Mildreth’s mania to something more subdued, as her wild leaps from topic to topic can feel like a rollercoaster. Nonetheless, it’s a strong piece of theatre and draws some really interesting links between the ancient treasures hiding within the Hoard and the things we desperately cling to today.
Hoarder is streaming online as part of Hoard: Rediscovered. For more information, visit the New Vic Theatre’s website.