Listening to the voice of Lancastrians in new play touring the county now
What does being Lancastrian mean? What could it mean if you lived elsewhere in the county?
From Blackpool to Skelmersdale taking in Lancaster, Preston, Euxton and Burnley, this play, which features the verbatim words of local residents, catches contemporary Lancashire life in all its variety.
The realities of seaside decline, racism, adolescent disenchantment and ambition, old age coping with change and the shifting industrial landcape are among issues raised and commented on.
The production, brought to the county by Chorley based Junction 8 Theatre, is at once thought provoking and entertaining, growing in strength and momentum as the play progresses.
Like a good novel the audience became ever more invested in the different characters, wanting to know where we would go next and whose story we would be hearing.
Thanks to the strong cast, Matthew Durkan, Roberta Kerr and Natasha Patel, who all boast impressive acting CVs, the cameo roles were compelling, entertaining and yes, in some instances, rather annoying.
Matthew was outstanding, racing round the limited space available to draw out a map of Lancashire, confronting straight on the issue of the outlying districts – Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen's unitary authorities, and the lost lands including Wigan, Warrington and Southport, casualties of local government reorganisation. Equally memorable was his knowing and slightly smug Lancashire expert, but most searing was his portrayal of a young man returning to Skelmersdale and unearthing ongoing resentments and pain provoked by his no hope father.
Natasha Patel took us straight to the parallel lives divisions of communities living alongside but suspicious of one another and the racial resentments which make for hurtful generalisations and ignorance of others' religion or viewpoints.
Meanwhile Roberta Kerr provided the ongoing thread which drew the production together as the Blackpool haberdashery shop owner who had once been an independent education consultant advising overseas governments and who loved the resort, despite its changing fortunes.
The shop provided the inspiration for the set and the weaving of tales. Lines of colourful wools had been strung, somewhat in the manner of ropes around a boxing ring, to create an enclosed space in which the audience was seated randomly around a central small corridor where most of the action took place. Designer Louise Whitmore's set immediately ensured the audience were engaged and involved in individual's stories, by reason both of proximity and that sense of enclosure.
Movement Director Kieran Sheehan had injected energy and life into the play, turning a spotlight on individual characters in turn, while the textile knitting/crochet and weaving theme was picked up regularly by the actors.
Roberta Kerr's leading role in a grandmother's footsteps type game introduced all the actors and aroused the audience's curiosity – where.are they going to take us?
To find out you can still catch Lancastrians. Hundreds of county residents were interviewed to create the production and be assured their voice is worth hearing.
* Chorley based Junction 8 Theatre is supported by the Arts Council England, Chorley Council LeftCoast and SuperSlowWay and was set up by local brother and sister Liz and Nick Stevenson, with Phil Geller as head of production.
To add to the Lancashire flavour a stall had been set up where it was possible to buy local food before the show.
* Lancastrians will be at Burnley Library on April 23 and 24, Plungington Community Centre, Preston, on April 26-27, The Dukes, Lancaster May 1-4, Stanley Park Visitor Centre May 6-8 and The Artz Centre, Skelmersdale May 9 -11. All productions begin at 7.30 pm with the exception of April 27, which starts at 8.30 pm. There is an addiitional matinee at Chorley Town Hall on Saturday, April 20 at 2.30pm.