“I’ve never been to the theatre before” – Sandra, Factory Worker, Quality Street
Written by Louisa-May Parker (Susan in Quality Street)
It’s Monday and I’m currently sat on the train to Lancaster. Quality Street will open in our third venue tomorrow – The Dukes (in the round). So far we’ve done The Viaduct, Halifax (in traverse) and The Lowry, Salford (end on!) and so tomorrow presents another long and challenging day as we flip it all around again. It certainly keeps the work fresh and exciting though! We may well be on our way to Bury St Edmunds and another tricky space by the time you’re reading this.
I’ve been thinking about what I should write about over the last few days. I could go into various topics; imposter syndrome (this is my first job with Northern Broadsides and the biggest theatre job of my career so far!), Brexit (we left the EU during rehearsals and funnily enough it was comforting to be distracted from it all) or I could keep it light and share some backstage gossip (I’ll save that for Jim!).
Looking back though, over the last couple of months, one of the loveliest and most rewarding things about working on this show has been meeting the five women who worked at the Quality Street factory and so I thought I should pay a little homage to them.
For those that hadn’t twigged, or perhaps haven’t yet seen the show, the factory worker scenes intertwined within the play are all verbatim, written from recordings taken during our rehearsals.
Brenda, Barbara, Jo, Sandra and Lotte came along, we plied them with cups of tea and they generously shared stories and anecdotes from their personal and working lives at the factory. Each week we’d also get up and show them some scenes from the play and they’d give us their feedback, offer their thoughts on the story, the relationships and the characters.
I’m not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into at first, but they happily went along and soon became part of the company with us, eventually working one on one with the actor who would play them in the show.
I don’t play one of them, but I do get the privilege of hearing their words as I sit and knit at the top of the show or whilst I’m rushing around backstage getting into my next costume. Those wonderful women are on stage with us every night and every night they remind me what theatre and art is truly about – who it is for and why we do it.
As co-founder of RedBobble Arts I’m a huge advocate for community engagement and I believe everyone should have the opportunity to engage with theatre. Opening the show with the verbatim line “I’ve never been to the theatre before”, I’m sure is no coincidence and I think it helps us state very clearly, from the get go that this show has never been just about us. It has been about giving people a voice in a world that too often puts barriers up and is considered bourgeois and too ‘posh’!
This regency rom-com could well have gone a very different way but thank god for these women, who helped us pick it apart, hold it up and question it.
I hope this experience has encouraged them to go to the theatre again, to understand that it is a place of welcome. Public money is being spent on it. The arts belong to everyone. This play is yours as well as ours.
I’m honoured to be part of this experience and very proudly give you – Quality Street by J.M. Barrie, Brenda, Barbara, Jo, Sandra and Lotte!