AUSTERITY GETS THE COMEDY TREATMENT IN WORKING CLASS PLAY
A working class comedy portraying the effects of austerity on ordinary people is coming to the Buxton Fringe Festival. Strife In A Northern Town is a fast-paced, funny play that tells the tale of the inhabitants of a random northern town, and how their lives begin to unravel due to the decisions of the local council.
The play debuted in Manchester last year, at the Women in Comedy Festival, and was nominated for the Funny Women Best Show Award 2017. It’s currently on tour, and getting full houses and rave reviews. It was created by and stars Jennifer Banks, a Manchester-based writer and actor who appeared in Coronation Street earlier this year, and has a role in upcoming feature film Mrs Lowry and Son starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave.
“I wrote the script when I returned to my home town in the North a few years ago after living in London for 15 years,” says actor, co-producer and writer Jennifer. “It wasn’t the same city that I’d left, and people just seemed demoralised. I felt the council really hadn’t done enough to help regenerate the city, and it upset me. So this was really my pop at them, but in a funny way.”
“But what was happening in Bradford wasn’t atypical – and in the age of austerity, national and local government cuts and an increasing reliance on foodbanks, the play is even more relevant today than when I wrote it,” says Jennifer.
“The story is a celebration of ordinary people’s resilience when faced with the consequences of the decisions made by those in power. It’s a universal theme, and that’s why the setting for the show is a ‘random’ town, because I think it’s an understandable predicament wherever you’re from,” continues Jennifer. “They’re characters you’d recognise from any town in the North, or indeed any working class area of any town in the UK.”
The play features an array of working class characters. There are Donna and Tracey who work at the local supermarket. Donna hates customers, but Tracey loves ‘em – especially round the back of the totes. Receptionists Pepsi and Lulu work at the town hall. They’re ‘frenemies’ who lick Weetabix for lunch so they can slim down into their wedding dresses. And there are also Kay and Val, who are star-crossed lovers. Kay loves her pooches but Val’s got a dog phobia, an allergy to cheese and a ranty, armchair-bound mother, Maureen – who hates Clare Balding.
When things start to go wrong for all of them, their seemingly unconnected stories entwine in a hilarious, fast-paced tale of sex, death, corruption, friendship, family and Latvian cigarettes. And with just two female actors playing all these parts – and more – it’s a high-energy thrill ride with quick switches, laughter, mayhem and maybe even a tear or two, too.
Being by, for and about working class people, Jennifer sees the show as her own small way to help redress the current class crisis in theatre. Last year’s Labour party inquiry into access and diversity in the performing arts found that it’s dominated by people from well-off backgrounds. And it’s something actors such Christopher Eccleston and Julie Walters have been very vocal in pointing out too.
“Labour’s report into the inquiry said there’s a ‘big C shaped hole’ in the performing arts. I’m not saying one 75-minute comedy show will fill this – there’s work to be done at every level of the industry. But staging a working class show, and getting a different voice heard, helps chip away at the current imbalance,” says writer Jennifer.
Strife In A Northern Town stars Manchester-based actors Jennifer Banks and Tracy Gabbitas, and is directed by Manchester-based Rhonwen McCormack.
Tuesday 10th July 2:30pm, 18+
Wednesday 11th July 2:30pm
Thursday 19th July 2:30pm
Sunday 22nd July 1pm
Underground at The Clubhouse
3 Water Street
Buxton SK17 6XN