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Two New Plays At The Royal Exchange

Kevin Bourke on a playwright seeking the essence of the North

Written by . Published on March 29th 2012.

Two New Plays At The Royal Exchange

EVEN with no less than two of her plays - Once In A House On Fire and Last Orders - both recently nominated as Best New Play in the Manchester Theatre Awards, writer and actress Sarah McDonald Hughes hasn't been resting on her laurels. 

Working around the demands of a new baby born at the end of last year, she has not only scripted a new performance piece called The North, premiering at the Royal Exchange Studio this week, but has also been rehearsing for a new tour of Once In A House On Fire, adapted from Andrea Ashworth's best-selling memoir and revisiting The Lowry at the start of June.

Inspired by recent Exchange productions of Jim Cartwright’s Two and Chloe Moss’s The Gatekeeper, The North will be performed by twenty talented youngsters drawn from the Exchange’s Young People’s Theatre Workshop and their ongoing Truth About Youth programme.

“For five weeks before Christmas we began devising around the title The North, with lots of improvisation, character creation and discussion," says the show's director, Exchange Education Associate Andy Barry.

"So a lot of work had already been done when I first became involved in January," recalls Sarah. "I would meet with the group once a week, focussing on one element, and then go away and work on that material, coming back the following week with three or so scenes that we would then discuss further. There was a lot of material!", she laughs. 

  "As a writer I'm used to taking my time and looking out of the window a lot, like most writers do! But I had to work much more quickly on this project and also look after a new baby as well, which made me more disciplined,especially as I was also writing a pitch for a new show at the time.

"Working with the young people, we'd talk about, for instance, 'what was the most important thing about the North, something that we couldn't possibly leave out?' or "what locations absolutely had to be in it?' What that very quickly showed was that 'The North' is a concept that we all had real difficulty in summing up."

Set in ‘The Museum of The North’, the show as it eventually developed delves into the identity, stereotyping, shared individuality and shared values of those who live in The North.

“The final piece has been carefully crafted by her to really express the ideas and feelings of the young people we have been working with," says Barry. "I am sure we will get our audience talking about what The North means to us all.”

The North is at the Royal Exchange Studio on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 March. Once In A House On Fire is at The Lowry 1 and 2 June. Truth About Youth is supported by the Co-operative Foundation as part of their national grants programme. Truth About Youth aims to challenge and change negative perceptions about young people by supporting projects which enable them to work with adults, the media and the wider community.


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