Friday, 18 September 2015

Interview: Ian Kershaw, writer of By Far The Greatest Team

"We're all trainspotters," writer Ian Kershaw tells me during our interview about his contribution to Monkeywood Theatre's most recent production, By Far The Greatest Team. "We may laugh at the old bloke at the end of the platform, with his notepad and corduroys, but we are all passionate about something. All watching something and waiting for the next time. We're all trainspotters in our own way."

Four Mancunian writers explore what it is to be a football fan with four brand new plays. Told in a game of two halves, we hear stories of both Manchester City and Manchester United, identity, community, belonging and the passion that drives it all. Now Then spoke with one of the MVPs, Ian Kershaw, to tell us more about the beautiful game he and his fellow writers have created.

Hi Ian, can you tell us briefly about the production and how much football can we expect? 

It’s on at the Lowry between 18 September and 20 September, and it's made up of four plays written by four writers about football - two of them by Manchester City fans and the other two by Manchester United fans. The four plays have an overall running time of 90 minutes and the performance space has been decked out to look like a football stadium. We’ve asked the audience to come dressed in their footy colours, so it might kick off a bit - people might be fighting in the car park.

What we are wishing for is that there will be football fans who have never been to theatre before who come along, and equally, so that theatre fans are so caught up in the stories that they want to go to a match, we want the two worlds to inspire each other. I guess really we are trying to create an understanding from two sides, especially between the two teams, and just show that we are all in the same thing. We are all passionate and we both live and die for Saturday.

How were the stories for the production created?

Martin Gibbons (one third of the Artistic Directors of Monkeywood) sent a call out for writers some time ago, and I thought it sounded great and wanted to get involved. He then assembled the final four - luckily we all know each other through different Manchester connections - and he asked use all to meet up at the National Football Museum. Martin gave us an open brief and said we could write about anything we wanted, within a football scenario. Once we delivered our first drafts, we started thinking of the play as a whole, and how we could bring these four stories together where it wouldn’t be a case of one play, lights out, next play, lights out. So we tried to create a production that resembled football as an entity, but also had a journey.

Manchester celebrated the second Football Writing Festival last week. Was By Far The Greatest Team a part of that?

No, I think that was a happy accident. By Far the Greatest Team has been a long time in the making and in Martin’s head for a number of years. Martin is actually a Middlesbrough fan and he was at a home game against a much lesser team. Middlesbrough were losing, so the fans all began singing, “We’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen". It was evidently not true. They weren’t even the greatest team on the field. But it was that passion and love of the game, and that has parallels to theatre which then inspired the project.

How has it been working in collaboration with other writers?

It’s been the best of both worlds. Being a writer, it’s a very solitary profession, so I’ve had the flip side of that which allowed me to have meetings and good times with other people. The other writers are all brilliant, and what’s been refreshing is that usually it can be quite competitive being in a team and you want to be the best. There's been nothing like that. Instead I've just wanted to be as good. It’s great.

What's been your favourite part of the process?

I think what I’ve most enjoyed is that we are all mates and there’s been a lot of winding up going on - little bits of gentle needling and a lot of banter. David Judge is a United fan and is the main actor in my play. He plays a die-hard City fan, so it’s been a lot of fun winding him up. The closer we get to opening night, I tell him, “I cant wait to see you wear that City shirt and kiss that badge".

Words by Kate Morris
Images courtesy of Monkeywood Theatre

By Far The Greatest Team is on at The Lowry from 18-20 September, kicking off at 7.30pm each night.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Shrine of Everyday Things @ Contact, 25.07.15

I've always found it interesting the things we get attached to and what we choose to hold on to. It may be a particular blanket or cuddly toy we had as a child which has survived into our adulthood; although that existence may inhabit the attic, still we valued it enough to never let it go. But what of the little things we never knew we would miss until it’s gone; the smell of an old book, the porcelain figurine that sat on your Nan’s mantelpiece; or the wallpaper from your first home? The Shrine of Everyday Things is an immersive, interactive journey that gives you a new perspective to how big the little things can be.

The talented Contact Young Company devised the site-specific piece in four properties in a Brunswick estate facing demolition and refurbishment, peeking behind their net curtains to explore the stories of the residents gone by. With that in mind the piece is extremely ghostly with a buzzing feeling of apprehension; which is no surprise given the location remains secret until it’s too late to turn back. 

The audience is asked to meet at the Contact Theatre before they are guided to the housing estate. On the walk we are asked to wear headphones playing slow, moody music and (unbeknownst to us) voices of former residents talking of their favourite rooms and memories of the estate.

As we approach the estate we see a long balloon drifting through the sky, which isn’t an odd occurrence until we see another floating from one of the windows. It’s strangely surreal; but more so across the road to welcome us are the “picture perfect” suburbanites, smiling creepily and waving, oh so slowly.

The audience are then split up into smaller groups and guided to different rooms. Each experience is strange and eerie in its own way, equally as strange are the residents. Visiting the rooms we meet three women listening to the whispers of their neighbours. Sit in on an awkward dinner while sugar spills out from the ceiling. Then on to a lonely son in a kitchen filled with empty water bottles.

A strange calm is cast in the final room however, as we are invited to remember our dreams. This was a clever twist to the piece’s proceedings; one that was thought provoking and emotive as it made me personally connect with the content but reminded me I was stood in someone’s home. We were asked to write on the walls the best dream we have ever had, and it was lovely to read the dreams of strangers. As I read, I remembered that this was a real person’s bedroom; they had reflected, dreamt and looked to the future as we were now.

That shared experience between a stranger and me; was the core of the piece for me. The power of an everyday occurrence, and exhibition of these little moments which make up our lives. The Shrine of Everyday Things is in our dreams.

Words: Kate Morris
Images: Courtesy of Contact