This month sees the premiere of a piece of theatre quite unlike anything ever seen in the city before.
Tony Teardrop will take place inside the bombed out St Luke’s Church at the top of Bold Street, in a new site-specific play from an original script part-set at the iconic city venue.
It’s not a new work – Esther Wilson’s play was originally written as part of a regional voices scheme with the National Theatre in 2004, but it has never been produced as a stage production until now. You may have heard a Radio 4 adaptation at the end of last year, too.
Set in a residential home for homeless alcoholics and inspired by real stories, Tony Teardrop is described as a biting, humorous play about people living on the edges of society.
It’s the sort of ambitious production Liverpool audiences have come to expect from Cut to the Chase, the theatre company behind such large scale shows as last year’s Treasured at the Anglican Cathedral, and the hugely successful Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles.
For producer and director Jen Hayes, it was a chance to work again with an old friend and contemporary.
“When Esther came to me with the script I was very interested indeed. It touched me,” she says. “We started out together and one of the first plays I ever directed was Wounded at the Unity theatre. This was a lovely opportunity to work together again.
“Her work is so well-researched and she has such a nice way with dialogue and created beautifully drawn, well-developed characters. As a director, it’s a really nice to tell a story that has a very strong resonance with things happening today, something really topical trying to make a change.”
Wilson’s other credits include the award-winning Unprotected, a verbatim play about the lives of Liverpool’s sex workers, the Iraq war inspired Ten Tiny Toes, as well as episodes of Call The Midwife, The Street, and The Accused.
Staging Tony Teardrop in the open air setting of St Luke’s, where the audience will have to wrap up warm and bring blankets and plenty of layers, can only help viewers empathise with the homeless character’s point of view, says Jen.
“It’s beautiful in the bombed out church. It feels like you step out of the city into a place that has taken on a life of its own. It’s a church but there’s also that freedom of nature having taken over – it provides us with a strong canvas to tell this story in a very different way,” Jen says.
Despite her high-profile and big name successes of the last few years, it’s this spirit of collaboration that clearly excites Jen the most, and the thing she is much more comfortable talking about. The cast includes Neil Bell, best known for his role as Soz in Shane Meadows’s Dead Man’s Shoes and Hollie-Jay Bowes ( Hollyoaks‘s Michaela McQueen). Photographer Lee Jeffries, designer Myriddin Wannell and five-piece rock n’roll band Dan Wilson and The Cubical are some of the creative talents involved.
Lee Jeffries has created the striking photographs to promote the show. His work has featured in Time magazine and in 2011 he was named National Photographer of the Year. His iconic images of homeless people will be used within the production, and he will also be creating a bespoke collection of Liverpool photographs called the Tony Teardrop Collection which will later form an exhibition.
Set and costume designer Myriddin Wannell has a wealth of experience in designing for theatre, dance, opera and film. Recent productions include The Passion starring Michael Sheen, and he is also design consultant at The Eden Project.
But it’s not only about the artists. Tony Teardrop is not only funded by the Arts Council but by Liverpool PCT, and production partners include outreach services The Basement and Genie in the Gutter, whose director Carl Cockram will create a programme of creative workshops based around the play. Esther Wilson will also deliver a series of writing masterclasses with members of city centre addiction recovery service Spider Project.
Jen says: “For Cut to the Chase, our work is very much about collaboration and this is just a dream come true.
“As well as working with great artists and musicians, there are a lot of wonderful groups supporting people in Liverpool, doing a lot of fantastic work getting people back into society. If Tony Teardrop can bring some attention to their work and spread the message, it seemed like an important thing to do.
“I’m always looking to work with great people and to create work that is unusual, exciting and inventive, as well as risky and challenging. I’ve always been fortunate enough that there have been great opportunities to make it happen in Liverpool.”
Tony Teardrop will be performed from March 21 to April 6. Ticketing is processed through production partner, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, by phone on 0151 709 4776 or online at www.everymanplayhouse.com