Junction 8 Theatre gives Lancastrians a voice of their own in new production touring the county soon

A Chorley-based theatre company is bringing a new production to Lancashire which explores what the red rose county means to its residents. Fiona Finch reports how the pioneering Junction 8 Theatre is determined to create new work and attract new audiences to theatre.

Liz and Nick Stevenson of Junction 8 Theatre outside Chorley Town Hall where 'Lancastrians' will be premiered.  photo: Chris Payne Images
Liz and Nick Stevenson of Junction 8 Theatre outside Chorley Town Hall where 'Lancastrians' will be premiered. photo: Chris Payne Images

There was no competition when it came to the location for a brand new Lancashire theatre company.

Founders sister and brother Liz and Nick Stevenson were determined their new county venture would be based in their home town.

In 2017 Junction 8 Theatre company, (named after the M61 exit for Chorley), unveiled its first production, which was located on Chorley market.

Lancastrians' cast members Roberta Kerr, (centre), Natasha Patel and Matthew Durkan photo: Darren Andrews

Now it is about to unveil its second, called simply ‘Lancastrians’.

Described as “A new play from the people of Lancashire” it has been made “using the real words of Lancastrians”.

Hundreds of people were interviewed across the county, starting in Chorley and Lancaster and moving on to towns including Skelmersdale, Burnley and Blackpool.

For Liz, who at the age of 29, has an impressive CV which includes working as an assistant director for the National Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, the Royal Exchange Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Menier Chocolate Factory, the production presented a new writing challenge.

Junction 8 Theatre is an associate company of The Dukes, Lancaster

She created the script from 500 interviews and said: “I’ve always been interested in verbatim theatre, making a theatrical experience out of real people’s words. For my own company I want to make work that’s for and about Lancashire. You don’t know what the results will be until you get the words from people.”

Interviewees ranged from those for whom Lancashire had been home all their lives to people from all over the world who had made their homes here and Liz said: “Whether people had been really negative or really positive what’s come up is that people are really friendly here.”

Questions like what is Lancashire, and more specifically, where is Lancashire were also raised.

Liz said: “We spoke to people about that and boundaries and how they changed in the 1970s and how that affected the identity of the county as a whole. There’s a lot about the identity of the place and how that’s changed as industry has changed. The joy is a playwright couldn’t have written this because people’s stories are so special and individual and that’s what’s special about it really.”

She provides a taster of some of the production’s subject matter. A woman from Iraq moved to Lancaster and found it so welcoming she hopes to open a Kurdish restaurant there and is learning English and the violin. A Lancashire folk singer and historian shared his view of the changing county. Three young people from Skelmersdale shared dreams of becoming actors and a retired performer from Blackpool recalled the resort’s heyday.

Liz said: “What I’ve realised is that the play is about these connections we have to a place ... and how they can be a source of a real sense of belonging and safety and security and happiness - and also can cause some tensions in people’s lives. It’s about community and how community has changed ... and I’ve tried to represent what people have said without judging it, reflecting the diversity of Lancashire while also making it a really entertaining theatrical evening.

“It’s not just going to be a lot of people sitting talking at you. It’s playful. We’ve a movement director and a brilliant designer and composer.”

The production has Arts Council England funding and it will open at Chorley Town Hall, before touring to five other locations, where the company hopes to introduce new audiences to live theatre. Tickets cost £10 and Liz said: “We’re making a professional show, a really unique experience but at an affordable price.”

Company artistic director Liz and executive producer Nick trace their love of theatre to their time at Chorley Youth Theatre.

They attended primary school in Whittle le Woods and St Michael’s High School in Chorley before attending Winstanley College, Wigan.

They both went on to study at Nottingham university, Liz to do English and Nick a law degree. Both became involved with student drama and the realisation dawned this was where their careers might lie.

Liz, also an associate director at Theatre by the Lake at Keswick, said: “We work really well together because we’re very different and good at different things...our skills complement each other.”

Nick, 26, is associate producer at Theatre Clwyd in Wales and former associate producer of JB Shorts in Manchester.

Thinking of where Lancashire residents choose to go to the theatre got the siblings wondering about how people feel about Lancashire. Nick said: “Is it a community or is it just a boundary?”

In 2018 Liz’s fiancee, head of production Phil Geller, became the third member of Junction 8 Theatre.

The company is an associate company of the Dukes at Lancaster and the show is being produced in association with the Dukes. Chorley Borough Council has also supported the production.

The show will premiere at Chorley Town Hall. Its three actors, Lancaster based Roberta Kerr, renowned for roles in TV's 'Coronation Street' and 'Emmerdale', Natasha Patel and Matthew Durkan will play numerous characters in a variety of locations as they take the audience on a tour of the county.

Show Venues

• Chorley Town Hall: April 16-20

• Burnley Library: April 22-24• Plungington Community Centre: April 26-28• The Dukes Lancaster: May 1-4• Stanley Park Visitor Centre, Blackpool: May 6-8• The Arts Centre, Skelmersdale: May 9-11

Tickets price £10 can be booked at junction8theatre.co.uk

*As audience members arrive they will be able to purchase local food and drink. At each venue the audience will be invited to add their own photographs, written memories and opinions about Lancashire to the set.