Lancastrians - a new play inspired by the people of Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 13:22 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:13 18 April 2019
Five hundred people were asked what it meant to them to be Lancastrian and their answers have been turned into a stage play. Louise Bryning reports.
A new play inspired by the people of Lancashire is touring the county this spring, thanks to a brother and sister from Chorley.
'Lancastrians' is the creation of Liz and Nick Stevenson who, together with Liz's fiancé, Phil Geller, are the force behind Junction 8 Theatre. 'We wanted to explore our county and learn more about it,' said Liz. 'So we just started talking to people, asking how they felt about their home town, whether they were proud to be Lancastrian and what Lancashire meant to them.'
Nick added: 'Like most of the people we've interviewed, there are two things which stand out. The landscape and the people. Lancashire has such a wonderful combination of green hills and coastal landscape. It has some of the most beautiful countryside, so you can really find space and quiet. And the landscape affects its people. So many spoke about the sense of community, the friendliness, the down-to-earthness of Lancashire folk.'
Other themes that came across included the invasion of their space – whether it's students, tourists or immigrants, they feel threatened when they see their hometown changing.
Other issues included a loss of identity because of boundary changes and the issue of fracking.
And 500 interviews later, 'Lancastrians' is the result. It premieres at Chorley Town Hall before touring to Burnley, Preston, Lancaster, Blackpool and Skelmersdale. Three professional actors will play a multitude of characters and perform the words of some of the hundreds of Lancastrians interviewed.
Among them is Lancaster-based Roberta Kerr who found national television fame 30 years ago when she played Wendy Crozier in Coronation Street. She went on to appear in Emmerdale.
She has lived in Lancaster for about 40 years and has a strong connection with the city's Dukes Theatre which began when she joined their Theatre In Education company. She has since appeared in plays and workshops there.
The other two cast members are Matthew Durkan who grew up in Astley and Natasha Patel from Didsbury. Among the characters they will be playing are a folk singer who wants the Lancashire dialect to be preserved, a former cotton mill worker, a Burnley student who's the victim of racist abuse, a budding young actor from Skelmersdale and an asylum seeker from Iraq.
As the audience arrive at each venue, they will be able to purchase some local food and drink and be invited to add their own photographs, written memories and opinions about Lancashire to the set.
'We hope that at the end of the show the audience will be talking about the characters and themes in the play, considering their own relationship towards their hometown and the people they share it with,' said Liz.
'Lancastrians' is not Junction 8's first play to have community at its heart. In 2017, 'Under The Market Roof' featured a community cast of all ages and experiences from Chorley, Preston and Wigan in an outdoor performance on Chorley market.
Some 64% of the audience for this show were not regular theatregoers which pleased Junction 8 who set out to challenge perceptions about theatre. Liz said: 'We know theatre is often perceived as a bit “arty farty”, a bit posh or “not for me”. But we know theatre can be a great night out; an engaging, entertaining, relevant and unique live experience that brings communities together.
'We wanted to make brand new, locally-inspired professional theatre experiences performed in non-traditional theatre spaces.'
Both born and bred in Whittle-Le-Woods, Liz now lives in Manchester and is an associate director at Keswick's Theatre By The Lake while Nick has recently moved from Brindle to Ellesmere Port, closer to Theatr Clywd where he's associate producer.
'Our family still live in Chorley, and Chorley will always feel like home so it's a special feeling when we get to make work here,' said Nick. Both joined Chorley Youth Theatre as teenagers, performing in many shows at the town's Little Theatre. Liz's last role there was in Blithe Spirit and, while assistant director at Manchester's Royal Exchange, she had a brief cameo on Much Ado About Nothing when an actor was injured and she had to take over with an hour's notice.
Apparently, Nick was a bit of a show off as a child, with a memorable performances as Francis Fryer in Calamity Jane at St Michael's High School.
They went on to study at Nottingham University at different times before Liz trained as a theatre director in London and Nick began his career as a theatre producer. 'After establishing careers, we wanted to come home to make something together and we were aware that Chorley didn't have its own professional theatre company,' said Nick. We strongly believe that the arts can transform lives and that great theatre can and should be for everyone.'
Liz added: 'Having our own company also means we can do things our own way. We want to make exclusively new plays that respond to what is happening in Lancashire right now.'
But what's it like running a theatre company as brother and sister? 'In some ways it's easier as we both share the same theatre experiences and tastes,' said Liz.
'It's not all plain sailing but we know we can fall out and make up again a few hours later!'
Catch Lancastrians at Chorley Town Hall (April 16-20); Burnley Library (April 22-24); Plungington Community Centre, Preston(April 26-28); The Dukes, Lancaster(May 1-4); Stanley Park Visitors Centre, Blackpool(May 6-8) and The Artz Centre in Skelmersdale(May 9-11). For more information, visit www.junction8theatre.co.uk