Why it's an exciting time for theatre in the North West
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 January 2016
Adam Quayle, co-founder and director of Manchester based Theatre Company ‘Box of Tricks’ and playwright Becky Prestwich about their new collaboration that is set in an actual chip shop and why more theatre productions are moving up north
Adam Quayle is no stranger to theatre and his name is popular to the Manchester theatre circuit. He is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the company he co-founded with Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder shortly after they both graduated from drama school called, Box of Tricks.
Adam and Hannah have spent four of those ten years in Manchester having moved up from London. “The move to Manchester has been beneficial to us, “Adam begins. “There is often the problem, especially within the arts world, with financing. It happens to all companies who are competing for funding and it’s often when people bring out their best work. It’s an exciting time for theatre in Manchester and the North West as there are many opportunities and new things happening. The mentality of everything happening in London as it is an epicentre is shifting and there’s great work happening in all regions. Manchester is becoming the second cultural destination on the map and a lot of companies have decided to either stay in Manchester or move into the area as opposed to driving down to London. London is becoming more and more expensive to put shows on and people are realising that there are more opportunities outside of the area.”
Owning and running your own theatre company does come with its own ups and downs as Adam divulges. “It is a difficult process, but it is also a rewarding experience to be masters of our own destiny as we can choose projects that interest us and put our own creative instincts to use. We underwent an organisational development period just over a year ago during which we moved towards a commissioning model whereby we now work with writers from the earliest idea of a play as it’s the writer that interests us and the people we want to work with. We go on a creative journey with them from the very seed of the idea to putting it onto a stage and producing it. Before that we would accept plays and do a bit of development work with the writer and then put them on. It’s something we want to continue doing. There are a lot of opportunities for writers in terms of prizes and awards and it’s great to support playwrights with the ideas that they want to explore rather than what they are expected to submit.”
This will not be the first time that Adam and Manchester based writer Becky Prestwich have worked together. Infact, their association with each other stretches back nearly to when Box of Tricks was first born as Adam goes on to explain. “Becky and I have done some full length Productions together in London. About eight years ago we did ‘Streetlights and Shadows’ at the White Bear Theatre and also ‘Letting in Air’ at the Old Red Lion as well as a number of short plays. We have a strong, creative relationship and wanted to start the creative process with her on a new play from concept through early development. We both wanted to produce a piece of theatre that wasn’t in a traditional theatre setting, instead set somewhere entirely different. In this instance, a chip shop! It is a more submersive experience moving away from the traditional actor/audience set-up. It is a process that allows us to develop audiences in different places and to bring the theatre to their door steps.”
Becky goes on to explain the idea of the story as well as how she never wanted to be a writer…
“I was sat in a chip shop one day having a traditional, British past time - a chippy tea! I found myself just sitting there and listening in on the conversations of fellow diners around me which drew inspiration for the story.” It is a way in which a lot of writers, Becky included, get their ideas. “Inspiration is drawn from all sources. From your own friends, from your family and also from overhearing conversations in public. I have always like the idea of people having headphones on, but having the volume down low so other people don’t realise how much they are hearing of a conversation.”
A career in writing was one that Becky never wanted to have when she was younger. “My mum was a writer which made me not want to be a writer! I grew up in a house where she would be always writing. I had an interest in theatre and felt that I wanted to direct.” Becky studied English and Writing and Performance in York and directed a lot of student plays. “I graduated at the Royal Exchange with their young people’s programme. While I was there I began directing youth theatre with the students and also began writing pieces for them to perform and realised that I was better at writing than directing.”
Becky’s first full play was one she worked on with Adam at Box of Tricks. “It was a positive experience and realised that I did definitely want to write! I got in touch with the BBC Writers Room who in turn put me in touch with writing schemes for playwrights and it went from there.” In 2011 Becky had her first child and used the time on maternity between being a mother to write and decided that was to be her career. She entered the Alfred Bradley Bursary award which is run by the BBC and claimed the runner up prize which meant she got a lot of mentoring and support from the radio team at BBC drama. “I got to work with a producer called Pauline Harris at the BBC who supported me from the development stage of a drama I was writing for radio. She really pushed me and supported me. Her knowledge was overwhelming. The radio play in question was called ‘Chopping Onions’ and aired on BBC Radio 4 in 2013 starring none other than Maureen Lipman. “It was a different approach to writing for stage, but, despite there being no set, there was more freedom creatively. There were parts of the play where the actors were cooking in a kitchen which is difficult to recreate on stage.” Becky has also displayed her talent on the small screen as well with writing credits on BBC One’s ‘Doctors’, but theatre always remained her first love.
The amusingly named, ‘Chip Shop Chips’ is a theatre play with a difference – it’s not being performed on stage. It’s being performed in a chip shop! Becky goes on to explain the story of the play and her inspiration behind it. “Chip Shop Chips takes place on the opening night of Eric’s chip shop. Eric has been the black sheep of the family. Everyone else has been helping run the family chip shop while he has been off round the world living an independent life. After his Dad dies and his brother has a heart attack he comes back to take over the business and has grand ideas to make in a trendy, retro place and wants the night to go well. During the opening night, his childhood sweetheart appears who he’s not seen in thirty years and she wants to pick things up where they left off. It’s a love story for them and also for an eighteen-year-old couple who may or may not get together during the course of the story. The idea is supposed to be about first loves, lost loves and nostalgia all set in a chip shop. It’s the idea of Chip shops that represent the age when you first have a girlfriend or a boyfriend and you go out together to get out of the house, but you cannot afford to go anywhere so you end up sat on a park bench eating chips.”
Still in the latter parts of the development stage with Adam, rehearsals will begin in the next couple of weeks before the play embarks on a tour of the North, but it doesn’t stop there for Becky. “I am currently writing a play about eating disorders which is another love story, but in a different context to Chip Shop Chips and I am also doing a trial with ‘Holby City’ which I am hoping to get. As a Northern writer I would love to do Corrie and I would also love to write something for the Royal Exchange.”
There is no questioning her commitment and ability and the partnership with Adam Quayle and the team at Box of Tricks will only help her to achieve her dreams.
For all the dates of the Northern tour of ‘Chip Shop Chips’ go to boxoftrickstheatre.co.uk/production/chip-shop-chips