Suzan Holder is the writer of Shake It Up Baby, one of the plays in this year’s Ticket To Write festival coming to the Unity next week. The festival’s artistic director Francesca Goodridge and producer Max Emmerson are both up-and-coming talents to watch, since their acclaimed revival of Shout: The Mod Musical made it from LIPA, to the Edinburgh Fringe, then on to the Royal Court earlier this year. The shows take place this Friday and Saturday (September 23 and 24).
Suzan is a writer and children’s theatre practitioner with a background in stage and TV production for such well-known names including Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown and ITV’s Loose Women. She is married to Slade frontman Noddy Holder and lives in Cheshire – and here she answered us a few questions about the new show and her passion for theatre:
How did you get involved with the Unity and Ticket to Write?
Ticket to Write is an annual festival that celebrates new writing and showcases plays with a connection to the Beatles. The plays don’t have to be about John, Paul George and Ringo themselves – any connection to the Beatles will do. My play is about Beatles fan Bev, a Liverpool mum who’s fast approaching fifty and decides to ‘shake her life up’ by looking for love on the internet. Ticket to Write decided this year to include my play and I jumped at the chance to show it at the Unity.
What’s the inspiration for Shake It Up Baby?
All of my writing always seems to end up involving music in some way. I’m a huge music fan. I think I’m one of those people who has their very own soundtrack to their life constantly playing in the background. Don’t you think life should always have a soundtrack playing in the background? I’d been listening to lots of my friends’ stories about internet dating and seen a couple of news reports about how much Beatles memorabilia is worth these days … and the two things just seemed to come together.
Where are you based, and are you looking forward to seeing it performed in Liverpool?
I’m from the Midlands originally but I first came to Liverpool 25 years ago when I worked at Granada TV on the Albert Dock. I’m based in Cheshire and my son has just graduated as a sound technician from LIPA, so I’ve spent even more time in the city over the last three years. I absolutely love Liverpool. I think it’s a city with amazing energy, so warm and vibrant – just like the people. You get better weather here too! Every time I drive down the M62 the clouds part, blue skies appear ahead and the sun shines down on the Liver Building. That’s how it seems anyway! I’m hoping a Liverpool audience will really connect with the play. Bev is one of their own and Scousers certainly know their stuff when it comes to the Beatles. I’ve been very thorough with my research, I don’t want them to catch me out on a minor detail. Oh – and of course, the play is a comedy … everyone knows the people of Liverpool have a wonderful sense of humour!
Of course, you have some real life first-hand links to the Beatles through your husband, if you don’t mind a question about Noddy. Have his stories inspired your writing?
Nod has immense knowledge and experience of the music industry. He was a Beatles fan right at the start of their career, he played the Hamburg scene – just like the Beatles had before and he has known all of the Beatles at one time or another, so yes, he is a mine of brilliant information. He’s the first person I always ask to read my scripts, and he’s not afraid to tell me if he thinks I’ve got something wrong.
Do you have any future plans for the play?
The play is one act at the moment and yes, it’s sharing the bill with another play called ‘Drums Along the Mersey’ on the two nights of the Ticket to Write festival. That has been written by Peter Harrison and is about original Beatles drummer Pete Best and his mother Mona. It is possible that I could extend the length of my play and I definitely want to look at touring it in the future. I’ll know more once I get reaction to the two nights at the Unity … eeeek…. No pressure then…
You worked with Brendan O’Carroll as a theatre producer, and Liverpool was certainly one place Mrs Brown was incredibly popular on stage before the TV show. What was your Mrs Brown experience like? Did you ever think the act would become as huge as it has?
Brendan O’Carroll and the whole Mrs Brown’s Boys gang are naturally the loveliest, funniest people who could ever meet. It’s really one big extended family and when you are with them you spend all day, every day getting hugged to death. I think their success is down to their comedy genius, lots of very hard work and because their natural warmth has connected with the audience. Brendan has read the script for Shake it up Baby and loves it, he’s been hugely supportive.
You started in newspapers and went on to work in TV – you were a series producer on Loose Women in its early days – what were some of the memorable moments in that job?
I was series producer on Loose Women when it was broadcast from Manchester. My son Django was only a toddler at the time and I spent most of my time trying to organise a group of very excitable, highly opinionated, hugely talkative women into a structured TV talk show – while I had Weetabix in my hair.
After that, you turned your attention to children’s theatre. How did that happen?
I gave up working in TV because I wanted to be there to pick up Django from the school gate every day. When he was about six he wanted to join a drama class or club but there wasn’t anything like that locally, so really I set up my drama company Dramarama just for him! I started with after school drama clubs at primary schools, and then went on to do full scale school productions. In my shows every single child in the school took part – up to 176 of them!
And from there you found success writing pieces for young performers.
For three years I also worked as writer/director for a youth theatre company of 11 to 18 year olds. That’s where I really began to flex my creative script writing muscles. I’ve written several original show scripts that now sell through a script agent – www.lazybeesscripts.co.uk. They have been performed all over the world … it’s a bit mad really, finding clips on YouTube of lumberjacks in Canada performing my Cinderella!
What do you think is the importance of getting children involved in theatre from a young age?
Working with children and young people has been the best fun ever. Drama is such a fantastic way for them to build confidence and learn to work together as a team. It really helps if you can get them started when they are at primary school, before those inhibitions kick in, then once they get to high school it’s not as scary for them – they understand you can’t really get it wrong so long as you have a go.
You’ve done all sorts of different things, so what sort of project might interest you next?
I’ve got loads of ideas! There are two more comedy plays I’m dying to write – one with an Elvis connection and the other with a central character of the ghost of Frank Sinatra… see what I mean about my writing and music! I’d love to be able to take Shake it up Baby forward and tour it locally…nationally….internationally…!? …watch this space!