A new play from an acclaimed young playwright makes its debut in the town where it had its genesis.
The team behind While We’re Here spent many hours interviewing people in Havant as part of the research for the play.
Writer Barney Norris, of the Up In Arms theatre company, explains: ‘The Havant link-up was pure chance.
‘We as a company have made maybe half a dozen shows and we were looking to extend our repertoire. We teamed up with Farnham Maltings, the Farnham arts centre, and they gave us a bit of funding to research and develop a new story full-time, which is always appreciated.
‘They also set up this interview process for us – they had cast around and they said they knew this arts centre in Havant with some proactive people who were doing cool stuff. We always go around Wiltshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, collecting the stories that make our plays, and we said, sure we’ll have a look at Havant.’
‘They put great effort into getting us access with people in the community, so we talked with everybody including people like the guy whose job it is to move on the travelling community, which he performed with a little more delight than necessary, I thought.
‘The access we got helped highlight what the community’s structure is – what are the issues? What’s the future for this place? What are the challenges they face? That was very exciting because we got a bit of a sense of the personality of the region and the many different intersecting communities who make up Havant.’
The two-hander stars Tessa Peake-Jones (best known for Only Fools and Horses) as Carol and Andrew French as Eddie. It focuses on these two characters, who were once lovers until their lives went in different directions. They meet again in a town full of memories, and find something still burns between them – on the country’s southern margin where the towns give way to the English Channel, both search for the centre of their lives.
Up In Arms’ previous works have tended to look at the more rural aspects of life.
‘We’re office workers, and shopworkers and odd-job people and we have careers and we try to get a pension together, so what we were writing about for the time was real quotidian experience, so people were watching something about themselves for the first time.
‘We created a play that doesn’t attempt to offer a comprehensive portrait of the area by any means, it’s a story that’s rooted in interviews and conversations that took place with people from that area because what we were getting from them was a new flavour.
‘It was exciting to experience something new – it’s not quite suburbia, but there’s something slightly suburban about these communities of Havant and Emsworth, Waterlooville, and so on, it’s not that they’re in the countryside at all, and that’s different for us.’
However, interviewees shouldn’t come along expecting to see themselves in the play – Barney’s fallen foul of that before.
‘In terms of the specific person-to-person experience, we’ve dodged that so we don’t build up that expectation that people will hear lines from themselves in it.
‘I made a show two years ago where a lead character owed a great deal to an old boss of mine when I worked in a pub, and actually setting up that situation - that character wasn’t him and he wasn’t like him, but he kind of got it into his head that he was, which was weird because I inflicted alcoholism and a divorce on him, so I felt a bit awkward when he came!
‘You try to catch a voice, but we haven’t lifted any life stories.’
The Spring Arts Centre, Havant