It is fair to say 2016 has been an unruly guest as years go. We have been stripped of creative geniuses and talents, Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder… the list continues. One has to wonder do they know something we don’t? There has been the shattering Brexit that was won by out-and-out lies. And when we thought 2016 couldn’t get any ruder, it elected a sexist bully as leader of the free world. (You have to love the loose use of the word ‘free’ here). Meanwhile in Liverpool, we sacrifice architectural treasures such as the iconic Futurist Cinema and build over anything green. The custodians of the city perhaps forget that they represent the Scouse people who elected them and not property developers. Green space should not be for sale and Woolton Woods, Allerton Priory, Sefton Park Meadows and Calderstones Park deserve protection. Can you hear me Mayor Redrow?
On a smaller, more personal level, as a playwright this year I have been able to stage my work in a fabulous bohemian ‘pure’ creative hub, the Lantern Theatre. Without the support of this company, I wouldn’t have had the courage to stage my work, BRUISE, which consequently gave me the confidence to develop WEAVE, PORNOVISION and recently HOTEL. Therefore anger was my immediate response when 2016 decided to throw another devastating missile and close a venue loved by all – due to the owners of the building deciding to sell. What for? Re-development again! There may seem to be as many empty properties in the city centre as there are homeless people, but one thing Liverpool does do – and does so well – is to carry on battling, even amidst indignant social pressures.
The creative family behind the Lantern – Margaret Connell, Siobhan Aitken, Mike Noble and Danny Noble – are not beaten and are staging a bold four-week run of a dark political comedy, SCOUSE, A Comedy of Terrors, written by Andrew Cullen.
First staged at the Everyman 20 years ago and frighteningly poignant today:
The Liverpool People’s Party calls for Liverpool to be recognised as an independent republic by the UN, the EU, NATO and UEFA.
The UK government objects and sends in the army…
Margaret Connell – who we previously met in November 2014 – is directing. She received critical acclaim with Trisha Duffy’s play ‘Broken Biscuits,’ which enjoyed a successful run in Edinburgh 2015 and was Made Up Liverpool’s ‘Play of the Year.’ This year she worked on ‘The Brink’ by Helen Jeffery, a raw and honest insight into post-natal depression. Armed with a Scouse passport (purchased from the Liverpool tourist office), I visited Margaret at the impressive purpose-built stage in The Dome, Central Hall, (the set exquisitely designed by Jocelyn Meall) to discuss SCOUSE and its manifesto.
10mh: Why this play and why now?
We were looking for a contemporary play that reflected post-Brexit politics and came across Scouse almost by accident. Despite it being nearly 20 years old we felt that it was possibly even more relevant now than when it was first written. The play poses questions about isolation and radicalisation.
10mh: If you could choose seven people, dead or alive, to see the piece who would they be and why?
That’s a difficult question. I’d just like as many people as possible who don’t normally go to the theatre to see it and maybe realise that theatre is something relevant to them that they might enjoy.
10mh: The play has some fantastic energising scene changes and there are some brilliant visual pictures. It makes for great theatre. Is there anything you dislike about contemporary theatre?
I don’t dislike anything about contemporary theatre. What I do like is vibrant, energetic theatre that makes audiences think and question.
10mh: SCOUSE is a very political piece; do you have a political heroine or hero?
Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theatre director and political activist. Boal created a form of theatre that empowered communities to find their own solutions to political and social injustices.
10mh: Can you define what it is to be a ‘Scouser’?
For me it’s about personal identity and local pride.
10mh: Many directors/practitioners have a piece of advice given to them at some point in their career, for instance, lecturer Graham Laker said to me, ‘If the work isn’t there, make your own.’ Do you have a token dictum/philosophy that you call upon whilst working on a project?
Not really, other than commitment to truthfulness, from the story you are telling to individual performances, and never to work on something you don’t believe in or feel passionate about because it will feel like a chore and no creative process can thrive under those circumstances.
10mh: I am personally – as many are in Liverpool – still saddened by the closure of the theatre, but extremely excited at the fact the Lantern is morphing with Lantern Theatre Productions, so what is coming next?
Well, hopefully enough people will see Scouse to realise we are still around and committed to making interesting, relevant theatre. Our writer’s group is still thriving. We will be producing a scratch night early next year and hopefully there will be a few pieces in there that can be developed further during the year.
Scouse the Play will be performed at the Grand Central Hall from 17 November to 15 December with tickets available from the box office