Creating Shandyland with The Old Vic 12

Written, directed and produced by 2018 OV12 alumni Gareth Farr, Hannah Bannister and Matt Schmolle, Shandyland is a Northern Stage co-production with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Oldham Coliseum and York Theatre Royal, in association with Echo Presents, Matthew Schmolle Productions and Greyscale.

Writer Gareth Farr has told us all about the show and the part that The Old Vic 12 played in its creation. 

Shandyland will be my third full length, fully produced play and it came about after a year-long attachment as part of The Old Vic 12 scheme. It was also a year that I changed my life and gave writing the focus it needed.

Shandyland is a play that I had been thinking about writing for a while, about a year, maybe more. I wanted to write a play about pubs, specifically pubs in working class areas. Currently an average of 27 pubs per week close in Britain, predominantly in working class towns. This started to concern me for lots of reasons. I come from a small, working class mining town in Lancashire where pubs are social spaces, they are community venues, they are places of comfort and exceptional conversation. They are where big feelings are felt and where silence is acceptable. They hold real life atmosphere and they are important to people, really, really important. I met my wife in a pub, I have felt love for friends and talked through problems in pubs, I have cheered and laughed and felt pain in pubs, most of us have. The fact that so many are closing and at such a fast rate means that local working-class pubs could disappear completely from the cultural landscape of Britain and if that happens then what would happen to that environment? What would happen to that conversation? What happens to the people who rely on them? Where do they go? Who do they listen to and who listens to them? Where do people congregate?

All of this was fizzing around my mind as I applied for The Old Vic 12 one evening in 2017. And when I say applied, what I actually did was fill in the form on the final day of application, with minutes to the deadline. I desperately wanted to write the play but I didn’t know whether The Old Vic 12 was for someone like me. I have a job and kids, I am older than the people that I had seen on the scheme in the past. I am a writer but mostly in my spare time and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to commit to a year-long scheme that would demand a lot from me. But if anything I am a worker and I really wanted to write this play so I went for it and in truth I would never have written Shandyland without The Old Vic 12 or the people involved with it. I owe them so much. I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto the scheme, so I rolled my sleeves up and started to write…

…And I didn’t really stop for a year. I wrote every day. I would get up in the morning, drive to work, do a full day, come home and put my kids to bed. I would then eat and open the laptop to write. If I was going to do this then it had to be good, it had to be the best version of Shandyland that it could possibly be.  It was really tough at times, it was a really intense and busy year but at no point did I ever want to stop. The play was taking shape, characters were coming alive, it was starting to feel real. I had to carve out writing time in order to get some long hours at the computer. My wife and I would sit with the calendar and plan our months ahead where I could take time to write. It was organised with military precision – not all writers would be happy working with such structure but for me it was the only way.

Throughout the year the team at The Old Vic would support me, they would push me to think deeper and to explore the play in as much detail as possible.  There would be dramaturgical help and development days with access to incredible actors at key stages over the year. The most important aspect though was being assigned a director early in the process. Hannah Banister was instrumental in the play coming together in the way that it did. We think the same way in a lot of areas and were able to be completely honest with each other from the start. If it wasn’t working she would say so, if it made her laugh or shed a tear then I knew I’d landed something pure. With Hannah as director and Matt Schmolle as producer, both of whom were part of the OV12 scheme with me, it always felt that I had a team that I could rely on.

I love being a writer. I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was 14 but it has always been squeezed in around work and ‘real life’. I write every day, I always have and The Old Vic 12 has encouraged me to take it really, really seriously. The response to Shandyland, the way the actors worked on it for the reading and the feedback along the way has made me really reconsider things. I was asked early in the process ‘What do you want to get from this year?’ I replied ‘I want to change my life and I want to write a killer play.’ I have done both. I have changed my job to allow writing to take a more prominent position. I can now write and be a dad and work with a better balance than before. I don’t think this would have happened without the OV12.

I am so very proud of Shandyland. It is about the people and working-class characters that I know so well. To have it produced by and premiered at Northern Stage and then performed at Liverpool Everyman, York Theatre Royal and Oldham Coliseum feels just totally perfect. I hope their audiences enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Spanning twenty-one years Shandyland deals with the events at the heart of a working-class boozer over that time. People come and go, they arrive and leave and they all have something to say about what’s going on. And into the middle of this noise, around about Christmas time Amy is born… on the floor of the pub.  Brought up in the arms of the locals Amy becomes their focus, she becomes their light, she becomes their only hope. But over time the energy and heartbeat of this pub starts to slow and Amy is left with an unenviable choice to make that will affect everyone she knows.

On average 27 pubs close each week in the UK, predominantly in working-class towns and cities.  Shandyland deals with the effects of this, it shows us what we once had and what we are now facing and it does all of this with a twinkle in the eye and a drunken smile.

See dates for Shandyland

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