Back in the days when Shameless was a mere concept in Paul Abbott's mind, Joe O'Byrne had already created Paradise Heights, which is, he explains "an amalgamation of places where I've lived and that have influenced me – Salford, Bolton and bits of Manchester - they're estates where you get your blood and thunder stories."
Rank is the latest in a series of three plays and a feature film stuffed full of `blood and thunder' and centred on Paradise Heights and its credible characters. The plot has echoes of the Rhys Jones murder in Toxteth, as a kid gets gunned down in the crossfire between gangs. But from there the action takes on a life of its own, with swift retribution for the owner of a local taxi firm who sees the killing and, after much anguish, decides to tell the cops.
Unfortunately for her, the lad who did the murder is the son of a local gangster, who makes sure her firm's cab drivers are threatened and customers driven away. Meanwhile, in the week leading up to the court case where the `grass' is to give evidence, the police have a crack down on the estate, and during one raid a lad is knocked down by a cop van, leading to even more trouble…
It's Halloween, gangs roam the streets in masks and everything's kicking off all over the place. This is hard core drama of the first degree.
Rank would make a really good tv script but to put it all on stage live is one brave move. Some of the action is on film, with the screen doubling as a window through which the audience sees gangs loitering outside and stuff. But the drama's power is that it immerses viewers in a relentless world where there's no escape until the house lights go up at the end.
Rank is the fourth story to come out of the mythical Paradise Heights, as the characters interweave through each production. The first play in the series was I Frank Morgan, centring on the story of the local loan shark and his brutal reaction to a challenge on his patch. This was followed by the acclaimed feature film, Lookin' For Lucky, four years in the making, and now getting a huge DVD deal with the world's second biggest distributors plus an I-Tunes contract in the States. The third story was called The Bench, premiered at Studio Salford and later performed to a sell out crowd at The Lowry, where Rank was also premiered.
Although a Bolton lad, Joe O'Byrne now considers himself more Salfordian - he uses Salford venues to premiere his work, the actors are mostly from Salford and the stories are carved from Salford's streets and estates.
The Paradise Heights productions have now got a big following of fans, including top playwright Jim Cartwright (Road et al), and Rank has been acknowledged as the best work yet. So how does Joe feel about having his Paradise Heights stories compared to Shameless?
"I think Shameless has gone a bit daft, with pensioners snorting coke in the pub and stuff" he says "But Shameless fans will love this - it has got comedy in it but it also deals with some very heavy issues…"
Very heavy. Don't miss…
RANK is on for one night only – Saturday 12th September 7:45pm at The Dancehouse on Oxford Road (opp the BBC) at 7.45 pm.
Tickets: £5 (first 100 only) or £7.
Box Office: The Dancehouse 0161 237 9753 Ticketline: 0161 832 1111 or online www.thedancehouse.co.uk
For Rank photos click on Gallery