A play set in a Salford air raid shelter around the months leading up to the devastating Salford Blitz of December 1940. The play was to be performed by the Lower Kersal Young People's Group. A young people's group ranging from the ages of 9 up to 84. As well as writing the play I was invited by the inspirational Jacqui Carroll to co-direct the play alongside her.
Lower Kersal Young People's group is ran by Tommy Lever, and his wife Lesley and a small committee based at St. Aiden's Church, Salford. This committee through Tommy and Lesley have carried out some wonderful youth work over the years, from short films, allotments, cookery class's and for the first time, a stage play.
I first met the group in mid June this year. I was immedaitely struck by the 'family feel' of this group, right across that age group from 9 to 84. They all live in Lower Kersal, a community like many that has it's problems, I live in a community just like it in Bolton. But what I felt from day one with this group was an amazing togetherness, a kinship, it was like one huge family of 25 to 30 people, and they have supported each other through some real personal tragedy's and times of hardship. I was more than touched by it all and made welcome from my first day.
After doing some research on war time Salford and working on a few improvisations with them ( and they had many great ideas of their own) I wrote the play over a period of six days, one of the fastest pieces of writing I had ever done. When we had people laughing and crying at the read throgh I knew we had something that could really move people. Now we had to set about the business of getting a group of 20 of them who had never acted on stage before, ready for a performance at The Lowry Quays Theatre.
They were more than up for it, throwing themselves into it and working hard alonside each other over the rehearsal period. I've done a lot of directing for theatre with professional actors, I can honestly say that this was no different, they responded well to direction, threw in ideas and suggestions of their own, hit their marks, found their light, improvised around dropped lines - simply, for Jacqui and I it was a delight to do, meanwhile IAN CURLEY was designing and building an incredibly detailed Salford World War 2 Bunker set for the production.
On the night of the performance the group knocked it out of the park before a 400 strong audience and recieved a standing ovation at the end of the play. I was watching in the wings and it was such a thrill to see them out there all supporting each other, belting it out, and most importantly enjoying themselves. We have recieved many plaudits and congratualtions since the play, and I can confirm that because of all this that this is not a one-off performance. The play will return. Stay tuned for a further announcement soon on the return of KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON by The Lower Kersal Young People's Group.
So, what has this got to do with Tales from Paradise Heights? Well I already have on the drawing board a tale I'm sketching out, set in the 1960's in Paradise Heights; and after the great experience I had on working with Lower Kersal Young People's Group I was inspired. I'm now thinking of setting a tale in war time Paradise Heights.
Below are some wonderful pics of the performance by Michelle Bailey.