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Chris O’Connor on The Parting Glass

Playwright Chris O’Connor has written The Parting Glass, Red Ladder’s new touring production exploring mental health, masculinity and how we connect in a social media-obsessed world. He tells us about the story behind The Parting Glass and why this authentic new play is vital in opening up a conversation about men’s mental health…

Let’s start with an introduction to you. 

I was born in Leeds but moved to Kilburn in London at four-years-old and my family are Irish, something which is a theme in The Parting Glass. I moved back to Leeds when I was 19 and have been here ever since. In addition to writing, I work with Mantality, an organisation promoting positive mental health set up by Stevie Ward of the Leeds Rhinos and his lifelong friend Dom Smith. We have a podcast, run men’s groups and also have a Mantality Club where men can open up, share and help each other achieve their goals.

What is The Parting Glass about?
The Parting Glass is the story of Jim, who fancies himself as a bit of a character, and Sara, an adventure loving Leeds lass with a great sense of humour. The play follows Sara at a special gathering she has organised telling us her story, whilst Jim tells us his story down the pub over a pint. They seem like the perfect match but we get the sense that maybe the timing isn’t right and perhaps there is a lingering darkness in Jim that will thwart any potential happiness. The piece looks at issues such as mental health, masculinity and also how we connect in an increasingly social media-obsessed world.

The play is a development of your 2016 play for Red Ladder, The Life and Soul. Can you tell us a bit about how The Parting Glass builds on the story?

The Life and Soul is a 30-minute one-man play telling Jim’s perspective of the story. Red Ladder often toured it with a Q&A after the performance and one of the things which came up was that people were interested in some of the experiences of others in response to Jim’s darker moments. The Life and Soul deals with themes such as male depression from the perspective of the person experiencing it. The Parting Glass adds in another perspective – that of a loved one – in considering how these issues can have a ripple effect.

The Life and Soul has resonated with audiences. What reactions have you had?

I have received numerous emails and messages from people who have seen the play and, unfortunately, have had direct experience of the subject matter. A common thread seems to be that the suffering of young men isn’t always depicted accurately, so it has been hugely rewarding to reflect that and show people they are not alone. Very sadly one of my close friends lost his brother to suicide two years ago. His family have come twice now to a performance of The Life and Soul and it makes me very aware of the responsibility to treat this issue honestly and accurately. The reason I wrote this play was to raise awareness and reflect these experiences authentically.

How important is it that The Parting Glass opens up conversation around mental health, particularly men’s mental health?

The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics has just under 6,000 suicides a year in the UK, which means we are still doing something wrong with regards to mental health, for both men and women. Of those suicides, males make up around 75% so there is still obviously something wrong. There has been a lot of research to show that the reasons for this include men’s inability to deal with negative emotions, their lack of openness and their viewing suffering as a sign of weakness. I’m hoping this play can help provoke some people to think a bit differently about these issues.

How has your own experience fed into creating The Parting Glass?

After suffering from a head injury, I experienced quite severe anxiety and OCD. I often used to fantasise about not being here as I couldn’t see a way through it. It is important to note that at no point did I consider suicide, it hadn’t got that bad for me, but instead I used to hope that I wouldn’t wake up or a bus would hit me and it would just stop. Eventually through therapy, opening up to friends and getting into meditation it all changed for me. This first-hand experience of knowing what it is like to not believe you will ever get better, even though I still had hope, has massively fed into this piece and I hope its authenticity resonates with others.

The Parting Glass is designed to tour into non-theatre spaces. What does taking the performance out of a traditional theatre setting and into community spaces achieve?

It gives people who might not go to a theatre a chance to experience it in a local venue. Quite a few people who have taken a punt on The Life and Soul said they wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t in their local pub or community centre and that they were thankful they had seen it, which is often the best praise you can hear.

The Parting Glass

How does The Parting Glass reflect Red Ladder’s values as a theatre company?

Red Ladder was the first company to produce my work and give me a chance as a writer and I am eternally grateful for that opportunity. I feel there is a lot of lip service paid to going out and bringing theatre to communities who don’t normally interact with it, but Red Ladder actually lives and breathes that. They have been doing this for years and have a loyal core of supporters in communities all over Yorkshire and the North. The nature of this play, its setting and my own personal history perfectly match with Red Ladder’s values and aims.

The Parting Glass will tour in Leeds, Wakefield and Barnsley this September and October to community venues on the Red Ladder Local circuit. It will then tour nationally in spring 2020. Click here for more information and to book. 

The Parting Glass has been developed with funding from Leeds City Council, through Leeds Community Foundation.

Photos: Playwright Chris O’Connor and cast Tom Swift and Alyce Liburd. Photo credit: Anthony Robling.


Red Ladder awarded £10K to develop new play, The Parting Glass, tackling men’s mental health

We’re thrilled to have received funding to further our work raising awareness of men’s mental health. Leeds Community Foundation has presented Red Ladder with a Men’s Suicide Prevention Grant funded by Leeds City Council, towards the development of a new play, The Parting Glass.

We’ll be touring the new play into non-theatre venues on our Red Ladder Local circuit in September, including pubs, community centres, sports clubs and working men’s clubs in Leeds, Wakefield and Barnsley. Each event will include a post-show Q&A session which will be facilitated by a mental health specialist.

The Parting Glass is a development of The Life and Soul, a short one-man production written by Leeds playwright Chris O’Connor, which Red Ladder has been touring nationally since 2016. Expanding its themes, it follows Jim – a likeable young man with a cheery and carefree persona who hides his struggles with depression, and introduces a second, female character.

After our September tour – info for which will be here – a national tour of theatres and community spaces will follow in spring 2020.

Rod Dixon, artistic director of Red Ladder Theatre Company says

We’re thrilled to be developing a new play with funding from Leeds City Council. As we’ve seen from touring The Life And Soul nationally for four years, theatre has an important and powerful role in addressing social issues, and promoting discussion – the lack of which is a major issue surrounding men’s mental health. Commissioning and touring The Parting Glass will allow us to engage with a wide variety of people in their own local environments, encouraging dialogue in an informal, entertaining and safe way and helping to break down the barriers that can prevent men from opening up about their mental health.

Cllr Rebecca Charlwood, Leeds City Council executive member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said:

We know that men are often less likely to talk about their feelings and there are a range of issues, from social isolation and unemployment, to relationship breakdown and feelings of not being valued in their community and society. We are committed to playing our part to reduce the stigma which prevents people seeking the help and support that can make things better and these grants are an excellent opportunity to fund innovative and targeted work which can make a difference.

Visit our showpage for more info about The Parting Glass and to book here.


New Podcast! With GLORY writer Nick Ahad

We hear from acclaimed playwright, stand-up comedian and BBC Radio Leeds presenter Nick Ahad on the challenges and rewards his latest play GLORY has brought.

Glory will tour the UK from 21 February 2019, premiering at The Dukes, Lancaster. For more info and tickets visit: http://www.redladder.co.uk/whatson/glory/

The Red Ladder Burble is available on Itunes and various platforms. If your Podcast Platform does not have it please let us know. Alternatively you can listen to the latest episode below:


Q&A with Glory writer Nick Ahad

Writer and broadcaster Nick Ahad’s new play Glory immerses audiences into the eccentric world of British wrestling – to grapple with identity and race in Britain today.

As Red Ladder get sets to premiere and tour our new play, a co-production with The Dukes, Lancaster and Tamasha, we caught up with Nick Ahad to tell us more.

Let’s start with an introduction to you, Nick. 

I’ve been a journalist since 1998, when I joined the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. I went on to work for the Swindon Evening Advertiser and Yorkshire Evening Post before becoming Arts Editor of the Yorkshire Post in 2004. I’ve been a playwright since 2010, my first play was Nor Any Drop, based on a trip to my dad’s village in Bangladesh, produced by Peshkar and Red Ladder Theatre Company. In 2014 I left the Yorkshire Post and joined the Emmerdale script team; since then I have worked as a writer and broadcaster, writing plays for Ragged Edge Productions, BBC Radio and Leeds Playhouse including The Chef Show and Partition. I also present radio shows for BBC Radio Leeds.

Photo credit: David Lindsay

How familiar were you with wrestling before writing Glory?

If you’d have asked me 30 years ago, very. I watched the WWF as a teenager, with the likes of Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker. My childhood, though, which was in many ways a typically normal northern working class childhood, was filled with the heroes of wrestling yesteryear.

I still remember being beside myself when I was six years old and actual Big Daddy came to fight Giant Haystacks in my home town. When I became a man I put away childish things and that included wrestling. I had no idea that it was so vibrant and alive across the north. It’s been a joy to reacquaint myself with it.

Photo credit: Andrew Billington

Your plays explore the contemporary British Asian experience. How does Glory fit into this?

Glory expands the themes I’m writing about to the contemporary minority experience in Britain. With a black British soldier, a British Chinese wrestler and a Syrian refugee as three of my characters, this play is an exploration of what it is to be the ‘other’ in contemporary Britain. So far in my work I’ve been drawn to writing about the contemporary British Asian experience because of my mixed-race English-Bangladeshi heritage. With Glory I’m looking a little further into what Britain and being British today means for any minority.

Each character in Glory represents someone or something you encountered during your research while writing this new play. Can you tell us more about this?

Jim Glory is based on a fascinating man who runs a gym just outside of Lancaster. It was a run-down gym, which I say with no disrespect, but if you think of the kind of place office workers might go for a yoga session at lunchtime – it was the opposite of that. The man we met was immensely proud of the duct tape covered punchbags and loved showing us his kingdom.

At that gym we met Christian. As one of the ‘only black lads’ in the Northern town where he grew up, he got into fights as a kid and turned to boxing to learn how to handle himself, and then to the army to learn how to handle the fighting skills he had. We met him after the army and he was training like a machine, keeping his discipline. He had this incredible energy, stillness and poise. He knew that you knew that he could kill you with one punch. He was also incredible sweet and gentle. Ben is based on him.

Sami is based on a number of refugees and asylum seekers we met who shared their stories with such generosity. We ate with a group of them, each one telling me the most horrific, almost unbelievable stories of their journeys from Iran, Syria, Sudan, all the while apologising for slightly imperfect English. It was incredibly humbling to hear what they had experienced to reach safety in the northern towns where we met them.

Dan, the British Chinese character whose dad owns a takeaway. Well, he’s me. My dad had a restaurant and a takeaway when we were growing up and seeing him in that environment had a profound effect on me. Watching him transform into someone who, like all immigrants, had learned to play the subservient role in his own business in order to survive is something that will always inform my work.

 

Photo credit: Andrew Billington

Glory uses wrestling as the larger-than-life backdrop to explore race and identity in today’s multicultural Britain. How important was it to you to tackle this issue head-on?

I think the more divided we become, the more important I find it to talk about race and not shy away from the difficulties we face. I don’t advocate stoicism and silence in the face of racism. There’s a part in the play where one of characters talks about the immigrant head bow, a small gesture of trying to make yourself small and quiet in the face of hostility. It’s what my dad’s generation learned to do, but we’re several generations on now and I and my contemporaries refuse to bow our heads. Having a voice, a stage, is a privilege and it’s a duty to talk about difficult things on that platform. That doesn’t mean it’s combative, a lot of the play is funny and funny about race. Drama is a brilliant way to raise an issue and humour is a great way to allow it to be discussed.

Photo credit: David Lindsay

Does setting Glory in the unique world of British wrestling allow for fun, creatively?

Masses of fun. I got write a stage direction which goes: “They Wrestle. It looks awesome. Because wrestling is awesome.” You can’t really have much more fun that writing that in a script.

Seriously though, the team that has been assembled for the production is incredible, from the fight director to the actors to the designer. To imagine a wrestling ring into being and then put these funny, complex characters into it and write for them is a dream, but then to write these elaborate and slightly manic wrestling matches into the story as well has been huge fun.

How would you describe Glory in three words?

Easy! Easy! Easy!

Sorry.

Funny, dark, entertainment.

Glory opens at The Dukes, Lancaster on 21 February and then tours nationally including dates across Yorkshire until April 2019. For full info and to book tickets Click Here.

Early bird tickets can be purchased for our week’s run in Leeds (1-6 April 2019). Snap up a £10 ticket Mon – Thurs  / Saturday matinee (normally £15) by booking before Feb 11th. The discount is applied automatically once tickets are in the basket. Book Here. 

 


We are looking for a Community Arts Facilitator!

Red Ladder Theatre Company are looking for an experienced facilitator to lead on an exciting community outreach project in conjunction with our upcoming co-production with Lancaster Dukes and Tamasha theatre Company – Glory.

Glory examines multi-ethnic Britain in the 21st Century, against the madcap and vibrant backdrop of contemporary wrestling in the North of England.

Written by BBC presenter, journalist, playwright and stand-up Nick Ahad, most recently applauded by critics and audiences alike for his play Partition that documented one of the most historic and tragic events in Anglo-Indian history.

Glory is set in a down-at-heal gymnasium run by one time legendary wrestler ‘Jim Glory’. We meet three very different characters in Jim’s gym: Dan – a British East Asian who is looking to break free of the stereotype as the son of a take away owner; Ben – recently discharged from the British Army and suffering from PTSD following his friend and companion getting blown up by a road side bomb while on duty, and Sami – a well educated asylum seeker from Syria waiting on the British Government giving him leave to stay in the UK.

The role is to help defuse and break down misconceptions surrounding defining ‘Britishness’, race and ethnicity in multicultural Britain today. And to address and counteract extremist attitudes and behaviours, seeking to dilute any growing hostility and suspicion in two UK cities.

The work will centre on Leeds and Coventry where the play runs for a week in each case, but also to work with other venues alongside Glory’s UK tour to encourage discourse and dialogue on the same subject. A by-product of any outreach workshops and events facilitated alongside the tour will be to attract non-traditional theatre goers to come and see the play.

This element of Red Ladder’s work is being funded by the Home Office as part of their Building A Stronger Britain (BSBT) programme.

The role will involve working in consultation with statutory and non-statutory organisations such as local councils, the Police, the Red Cross, asylum and migration centred groups and other participants where we feel the work could make a real difference in countering the extremism narrative which is so prevalent in Britain today.

The post is a freelance role and the ideal candidate will have experience in working in community settings in a performing arts context with a range of agencies and participants.

Requirements

Necessary:

  • A minimum of two years working in community settings with hard to reach groups and participants
  • Experience of engaging with statutory bodies (i.e. local councils, the police etc) on community initiatives
  • Experience of working with non-statutory agencies on community initiatives
  • Experience in discharging funded projects, executing desired outputs and delivering on KPIs, and ensuring that all the relevant documentation and data is collected and processed. Evaluation and monitoring also forms part of the brief.
  • Experience in handling modest budgets and cashflows, and reporting financial outcomes in the appropriate manner to the relevant recipients and key stakeholders
  • Experience in using theatre and drama as a tool for social cohesion and community integration
  • Ability to plan own time and scheduling

Preferable:

  • Ability to drive and access to a vehicle
  • Knowledge of the British theatrical scene especially in creative learning and outreach
  • Knowledge of Coventry and/or Leeds community orientated networks

Terms and conditions

Fee: the rate is £150.00 per 8 hour day (lunch is not paid)
Number of days: between 25 and 35

Dates: the project is still dependant on one or two elements of funding but, ideally the successful candidate would be available to start on 11 February 2019 or close to this date.

Out of pocket expenses are reclaimable on receipt of relevant receipts.

This is a freelance role and the successful candidate will need to supply a UTR and be liable for their own tax and national insurance

How to apply:

Please submit your CV and a brief overview (1-side of A4) explaining why you are suited and qualified for this role to Chris Lloyd, either by post to C/O Red Ladder Theatre Company, 3 St Peter’s Buildings, York Street, Leeds LS9 8AJ or by email to chris@redladder.co.uk

Deadline: Sunday 3 February 2019
Interviews: w/c 4 February 2019

____________________________________________________________________________

Tour venues:

  • Lancaster Dukes
  • Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
  • Unity Theatre, Liverpool
  • The Albany, London
  • Cast, Doncaster
  • Hull Truck
  • Theatr Clywd
  • Leeds (Albion Electric warehouse)
  • Belgrade, Coventry

There are also four performances in non-traditional venues which form part of Red Ladder local – a scheme aimed at bringing high quality theatre to places of low cultural engagement and participation.


Announcing GLORY – our co-production with The Dukes, Lancaster

GLORY – a new play written by Yorkshire writer Nick Ahad delves into the larger-than-life world of British wrestling, to grapple with identity and race in contemporary multicultural Britain.

Set in the eccentric world of British wrestling, GLORY – a new play by writer and broadcaster Nick Ahad (Partition, The Chef Show) – will premiere at The Dukes, Lancaster in February 2019 followed by a UK tour.

GLORY is a co-production by The Dukes Theatre and Red Ladder Theatre Company in association with Tamasha, marking the first collaborative partnership between the three organisations.

Directed by Red Ladder’s artistic director Rod Dixon (The Damned United/ Mother Courage and Her Children), the new play will receive its premiere staging at The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster from Thursday 21 February – Saturday 2 March. It then tours nationally to theatres and non-traditional theatre spaces until 13 April 2019 – including Yorkshire, London, Liverpool and Wales.

As British wrestling experiences a resurgence across the UK, GLORY will immerse audiences into the madcap world of the sport. Set in a decrepit gym in the north of England, it sees faded star Jim ‘Glorious’ Glory and amateur wrestlers Dan, Ben and Sami confronting their demons, and each other, as their lives collide – inside and outside the wrestling ring. The unique world that British wrestling inhabits provides a backdrop to Nick Ahad’s state-of-the-nation play, as it grapples with race, identity and what it means to be British today.

Playwright Nick Ahad says“I used to watch wrestling when I was a little boy. I still remember the excitement of seeing Giant Haystacks fight Big Daddy at Victoria Hall in Keighley in the 1980s. But I thought British wrestling was a relic of the past. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Wrestling is alive, well – and as entertaining as ever. With larger than life characters and a perfect combination of sport, performance, blood and sweat, it is pure theatre. It is also the perfect arena to explore the Britain we all share today. I can’t think of a better place for drama to play out than the inside of a wrestling ring.”

The cast of GLORY are Josh Hart (Dan), Jamie Smelt (Jim Glory), Ali Azhar (Sami) and Joshua Lyster (Ben).

The Dukes
Performances: Mon – Sat, 7.30pm
Matinees: Wed 27 Feb 2pm and Sat 2 March 2pm
Tickets: £5 – £16.50, concessions available
Book via: dukes-lancaster.org. Tel: 01524 598500


Red Ladder at 50: Exhibition

To mark our 50th year, the story of Red Ladder Theatre Company is being told in an exhibition at Central Library Leeds throughout June. We’re marking this milestone by reflecting on five decades as one of the UK’s longest running radical theatre companies.

Co-curated by artistic director Rod Dixon and Fiona Gell, RED LADDER THEATRE COMPANY: 50 YEARS OF RADICAL THEATRE (1968 – 2018) shares how Red Ladder has responded through each decade to the struggles and conflicts of the time.

The theatre company began in 1968 when a group of socialist political theatre-makers gathered in a house in Hackney to form a theatre collective called THE AGITPROP STREET PLAYERS. They aimed to make street theatre that would agitate for social change and bring down the capitalist system. Later re-named RED LADDER THEATRE COMPANY after a much-used red stepladder used as a prop for street performances, the company moved to Leeds in 1976.

Key moments are picked out in programmes, photos, costume and more – from the riots and rebellion of the 1960s to plays about ordinary folk taken into working men’s clubs and trade unions, and to present day as a nationally important company.

Rod Dixon says, “For fifty years Red Ladder Theatre Company has responded to the changing world. The exhibition reflects Red Ladder as a company of the moment, challenging issues and stories of the times –but at our core is a commitment to telling the stories of working class, reflecting unheard voices on our stages and making theatre that is relevant to ordinary people. The precarious life of a theatre company is as dramatic as the work we put onstage – but we are proud to be celebrating our 50th year as a Leeds company with a long history of making theatre for the many.”

RED LADDER THEATRE COMPANY: 50 years of Radical Theatre (1968 – 2018) is taking place in Room 700 at Central Library Leeds. The exhibition is accompanied by two events:

Join Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon talking about 50 years of Red Ladder at an exhibition opening on Thursday 7 June at 11am.

Rod Dixon and Chumbawhamba’s Boff Whalley discuss their artistic collaborations – including the forthcoming 50th anniversary production Mother Courage And Her Children – and making entertaining political work in a lunchtime talk on June 18 at 1pm. Book tickets here

Red Ladder’s 50th anniversary production Mother Courage and Her Children is taking place at Albion Electric warehouse in Leeds from 28 September – 20 October 2018. Tickets are on sale through West Yorkshire Playhouse box office on www.wyp.org.uk Tel: 0113 213 7700.


The Damned United Trailer!

Our new trailer for our co-production of The Damned United with the Leeds Playhouse is out! Featuring authentic footage of Elland Road from the 1970’s, taken from the West Yorkshire Police, mixed with some contemporary footage today featuring the brilliant Luke Dickson as Old Big ‘Ead himself. Give it a watch!


Audition for Mother Courage!

This October we are celebrating Red Ladder’s 50th birthday with a production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children, starring Pauline McLynn (Father Ted, Eastenders, Shameless, East is East, Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days….)

We need a community chorus who can sing well in character and move the audience along with the action. We want it to be representative of Leeds communities. We want you to be in it! 

Pauline McLynn is playing the iconic title role of Mother Courage, performing alongside a cast of eight brilliant actor-musicians. Chumbawamba‘s Boff Whalley is composing new songs and singer Beccy Owen is the musical director of this immersive show, which will be performed in Albion Electric warehouse in Hunslet, Leeds.

Mother Courage and Her Children is set during the Thirty Years War in the 17th Century – at the end of the medieval period and the beginning of Capitalism. The play is about how businesses makes profit out of war and the rest of us suffer. The play is about refugees and migrants, war crimes and cruelty. But the Lee Hall version we are doing is also very FUNNY!

We will ask a great deal of commitment from our chorus. They will perform every other night from September 27th to October 20th. Our community chorus will be performing alongside the cast – as part of the Mother Courage Company.

Come and audition! We are running several workshops, which will be friendly informal group auditions across four different locations and dates, as follows:

Monday 30th July, 6pm – 8pm Mandela Community Centre, Chapeltown Road, LS8 3HY

Wednesday, 1st August, 6pm – 8pm at First Floor, above Leeds Playhouse’s Costume Hire, St Peter’s Square, LS9 8AH

Thursday, 2nd August, 6pm – 8pm at Swarthmore Education Centre, 2-7 Woodhouse Square, Leeds LS3 1AD

We will be looking for over 18s with:

• Group singing experience in a choir, band, etc.
• The ability to take musical direction
• A willingness to explore performance and to develop new skills
• Enough availability to fully commit to both rehearsals and performances

You will:
• Have fun
• Learn new skills
• Make new friends
• Grow in confidence

What to bring:
• Yourself, in comfortable clothing and footwear
• Drinks and a packed lunch

Call 0113 245 5311 or email Rod Dixon on rod@redladder.co.uk to book your place at one of our audition workshops.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Rod & the Red Ladder team


MOTHER COURAGE FULL CAST ANNOUNCED

We’re very pleased to announce the full cast for Mother Courage and her Children.

This wholly immersive staging of Bertolt Brecht’s epic and timeless masterpiece invites audiences to follow in the steps of Brecht’s fearless matriarch, as Mother Courage hauls her tinkering wagon of junk through crackling battlefields and bombed-out villages – echoing the modern-day refugee’s universal displacement.

Pauline McLynn leads this talented ensemble in Rod Dixon’s production, which features music composed by Boff Whalley (Chumbawhama) and musical direction/arrangement by Beccy Owen.

Tickets are on sale now for Red Ladder’s 50th anniversary production, taking place at Albion Electric warehouse from 28 September – 20 October.