The Salford Star Award for Best Play...
Joe O'Byrne – The Haunting of Blaine Manor
The theatre scene in Salford is as vibrant as ever and countless plays were brilliantly performed throughout the region, as 2017 provided an embarrassment of riches with writers, established and new, showcasing their creative excellence. The GM Fringe was, again, a real triumph and brought theatre to new audiences across a variety of venues.
Salford proved to be a magnet for the arts as writers, performers and actors came from far and wide to grace our stages. Graduates from Salford University were prominent alongside Salford based creatives. Local groups ADP and Scripts Aloud excelled, and were on-hand to assist and encourage the next generation of scriptwriters. A diverse range of styles and stories were featured from comedy to fantasy to musical theatre.
Local interest stories were well represented; Salford Pals, Salford Belles and 'When both Sides Surrender' were all expertly delivered. To put it mildly, we had a difficult decision to make. Ultimately, we agreed on one genre-defying play...
The Haunting of Blaine Manor by Joe O'Byrne expertly enthralled, amused and scared the hell out of the audience. It also featured a twist in the tale that beautifully packaged the play into a mind-blowing bundle. Not content with penning an amazing script, Joe even performed a star turn as the charming yet sinister butler, Grady.
I had a word with Joe and asked him how it feels to win the Salford Star Best Play Award?
"It feels fantastic, and obviously it's an accolade to share with all those who have brought the play to life and have left such a lasting impression on audiences and all the critics who have seen it. Theatre is a massively collaborative effort; the powerhouse performances on stage, behind the scenes creatives, pre-production, art and design, promotion - it's huge. We have such a good time on this though, working with each other and feeling the massive appreciation from the audiences as they are all really getting into it."
Blaine Manor is a great play with an outstanding cast. Did it all click from the outset?
"The short answer is 'Yes'! The longer answer is - it's all about the team. It was really important to assemble the right team obviously. I knew who I wanted cast wise, and got them all, Peter Slater, Jo Haydock, Andrew Yates, Ian Curley, Daniel Thackeray - all of them are fabulous at bringing characters to life, and the first run of the show they all absolutely knocked it out of the park.
"Ian had to move on and Phil Dennison stepped in and more than made the part his own. My original sound designer left the production...due to being actually disturbed by the script, having actual nightmares stemming from it. Which told me - yes I had a scary script - but damn, I'd lost my sound designer!
"You can have all the convincing performances on stage that you want, but if the sound didn't live up to it we'd be in trouble. Justin Wetherill stepped up to the plate. The music Justin composed completely captures the mood - the sound effects were going to be the real challenge. It's a very chilling and atmospheric sound design. Oh, and David Heald rides a lighting desk like Han Solo at the controls of the Millennium Falcon - I was determined to get a Star Wars reference in here somewhere.
"Marketing wise I hooked up once again with the digital design genius that is Darren McGinn. I've worked with Darren for years now and he's always the first person crew wise that reads the script. His work on this campaign has been, as always, outstanding with just beautifully rendered trailers and portraits, again drawn from the feel of the script. Darren nails it every time and he really is so under rated in the industry, as in fairness is everyone involved in this production; it's good enough for any West End stage.
"Red Pencil Productions have done a wonderful job filming one of the performances and sharing that with theatre programmers will help me take the play much further. The production is very much in its infancy in terms of performances, some promoter is going to find it and realise that this is lightning in a bottle."
Does appearing in the play add extra pressure?
"No. I thoroughly enjoyed myself from day one. I put my trust in the professionals around me, and I knew what I wanted to do with the character. We all clicked from the first rehearsal, the magic has been there from day one."
What are your highlights from 2017?
"Well there's taking the play on its first tour, which was a huge success, selling out in London two weeks before we got there, as part of the London Horror Festival; having a great time at the Kings Arms in Salford on our second visit there with this play, Lisa Connor and all the staff down there were perfect hosts as ever. Every venue on the tour was fantastic and they were lovely with us.
"On a more personal note my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February. My brother and I took him on a road trip to Ireland in March where he had a wonderful time with his brothers, sisters and extended family in Limerick, a chance for him to connect again with the city he was born and raised in, and a great opportunity for my brother and I to connect with cousins we'd more or less grown up with. Dad passed away on the 15th of July; that few days in March - and dad - will always be with me."
Will Blaine Manor be performed again in 2018?
"Yes, of course. We're having too much of a good time and I want to thank all the audiences that have seen it thus far for making this such an epic ride, and of course a big thanks to the reviewers. I have already booked dates for an autumn tour, starting September though we may appear somewhere earlier. Venues in Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Shropshire are on the map so far, but there will be more added over the next few weeks. I'm looking for Arts Council funding to really give us a decent run in London, fingers crossed. Once again, huge thanks for this award, this will really help us."
For more details of Joe O'Byne's The Hanting of Blaine Manor see previous Salford Star article – click here
The Salford Star Awards
Best Regular Event – Evidently – click here
Best Performer - JB Barrington - click here
Best Band - The Moods - click here
The results of the Best Band and Best Performer Awards will be announced next weekend
Words by Ian Leslie
Photos by Steven Speed