Liverpool city centre-based playwright Ian Carroll has written plays about historical figures including John Lennon, Tommy Cooper and even Hitler. More recently, he has begun to stage works in more unconventional venues, including his 2014 adapation of Frankenstein at the Bombed Out Church. His latest work, The Mole of Edge Hill, opens this month. MADEUP asked him a few questions to find out more…
What is the play about?
The Mole of Edge Hill is the story of eccentric entrepreneur Joseph Williamson who built a mysterious tunnel network in Liverpool in the early 19th Century.
What is it that attracted you to his story?
First of all, it’s a great title! It’s also a great story. I think it was the idea of a young man, working his way up in the business, eventually marrying the boss’s daughter and inheriting the family firm, and then putting his great wealth at the disposal of the community to which he belonged, by giving work to hundreds of men and providing them with an apprenticeship and also a purpose. Even today, the tunnels serve as a tourist attraction in the city. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
With that in mind, how did you find the angle you wanted for the play?
It all starts with research. There were so many myths attached to the story, I wanted to include them all if possible. I also wanted it to be a cradle-to-grave (or as near as possible) life story, plus give a feeling for the time and period of the piece, a lesson in history as well as local history. The structure of a life gave the play its dramatic underscore, which we can embellish with character, dialogue, and incidents.
How did Williamson Tunnels get involved?
I approached the venue directly. As soon as I knew that this was the story that I wanted to tell, there was only one venue that stood out as the perfect location to tell Williamson’s story – at the Williamson tunnels that he built. I am a writer and producer. I was doing Frankenstein at the Bombed Out Church on Halloween when I came and spoke to the staff at the tunnels and told them my idea. They were very receptive, and I assured that them this play was purely about celebrating the life and work of someone that I believe to be one of the greatest Liverpudlians of all time. They could see that we had a shared goal, and they were happy to support me and this exciting venture.
What can the audience expect from the usual location?
Just to be clear, we are staging the play at the venue at the tunnels. There is no need to bring your wellies! The venue has a bar, a stage, and seating for a hundred people. The beauty of it is that we are seated and performing beneath one of Williamson brick arches. It looks like the Cavern club! We are in an actual Williamson tunnel, so the audience can see, and feel, exactly what it is that we are talking about, so it is the perfect venue.
Has it made it more challenging to stage/ produce than in a normal theatre?
In a way, it has simplified things. We are in one of the tunnels that we are trying to describe. Also, because we don’t have a lot of lighting rigs, and we are constrained by the physical nature of the space, we have to really rely on the great cast and the great story, which isn’t a bad place to be!
How big is the cast, and who are the performers?
The cast is just four, but they are formidable! They are my long term collaborator Andrew Wall (Adolf in Toxteth, One Bad Thing, Frankenstein) as Richard Tate; Jack Cooper (who played Victor Frankenstein) as Joseph Williamson A.K.A. The Mole; Lizzie Hiscott (who played Elizabeth, Victor’s bride, in Frankenstein) as Elizabeth Tate; and Lenny Wood, the supremely funny and much-loved Liverpool actor and comedian, as Lenny the Labourer, bringing the humour and the voice of the working man to the piece.
Your work often involves real historical figures, what appeals about that to you so much?
This is my favourite question. I honestly hadn’t noticed that my plays do all contain real historical figures. It certainly makes it easier when you comes to sell the show, not having to explain who John Lennon is, or Tommy Cooper, or Adolf Hitler. I think one possible reason is that I much prefer reading biographies and non-fiction than fiction. A story is more powerful to me if it is true. In reality though, these plays have never really been about the people, they have been about their stories – ie, was John Lennon murdered by the CIA? Did Adolf Hitler spend six months in Liverpool as a young man?
It’s the stories that are first and foremost my driving force. If you are looking for a more psychological reason why I have made the choices that I have, maybe it’s an ego thing, to have chosen such iconic figures. My partner would probably agree! For me though, I am a writer, and I can only find the time, in an otherwise hectic life, to write the stories that I am desperate to share with everyone. So far, these are the choices that I have made. In the future, who knows……
The Mole of Edge Hill takes place at the tunnels from March 24 to 28, with shows at 2.30pm and 7.30pm each day. For tickets and more information, visit their website.