"It's pretty hard for it not to be a play slagging off the Council" Chris Hoyle
`Shirley smiles and puts the key in the door. Before she enters, she looks back to have a look at her beloved Brook Street. In slow motion, her smile changes as she turns her head. This time the street is deserted and abandoned. The sunshine has gone and the sky is moody and dark, almost purple. The car that Bill was washing is now burnt out and abandoned. There is not a soul on the street. All the houses are tinned up with metal. We close up on the tinned up windows of the house next door. It reads - All materials of value have been removed. Shirley sighs and enters the house'
Around two years ago playwright, Chris Hoyle, was going to see his mates in Langworthy when he came across a classic Salford scene…
"I saw this beautiful little house in the middle of this rotting tinned up street" he recalls "I thought `Who would live in a house like that?'"
Chris contacted the Salford Star and we put him in touch with some people who were living like that – and some who were fighting to avoid that. From those meetings the character of Shirley was born. She lives on a tinned up street but refuses to move out…
"It's pretty hard for it not to be a play slagging off the Council but I've not actually set out to do that, I've set out to do more" says Chris "It's a story about people having an emotional attachment to a home, and how we don't realise what it's like to live in a house for forty years and then, at the end of your life, someone comes in and says you've got to move
"How would anyone feel about that – especially if you owned your house outright?" he asks "You don't realise that and how communities have just fallen apart because of it. Everyone talks about the regeneration of Salford and the new influx and the social cleansing that's happened over the years but I wanted to tell the story of the real people of Salford and the struggle that they've gone through."
Having read the script, Tinned Up is very real, very passionate – and also very funny
"It's a comedy play and I want it to play out like a tv comedy" says Chris "Early Doors, Royle Family, that's where I get my inspiration from. It's real northern dialogue and it's funny. People could be put off by the heavy subject matter, people being forced to move out of the street. But actually what I hope is clever about the play is that it runs like a comedy but it's got a really serious message underneath it."
The `message' is emotional rather than political. And that is the most powerful message of all. What is remarkable about Tinned Up is that Chris has managed to weave a million `true life' stories into one fictional production…
There's everything in there from the Light Oaks Park fight to the Urban Splash upside down houses in Chimney Pot Park; from the Seedley and Langworthy community who covered their houses in anti demolition banners, to those still fighting in the Top Streets of Higher Broughton; and those who fought the trashing of Lower Broughton and the attempted bulldozing of Spike Island.
"With the Urban Splash development at Chimney Pot Park there's something really poetic about the houses being turned upside down as well as the people's lives that have been affected by it, so it was quite a nice metaphor to use" says Chris "And obviously I met people who had been pushed out of their houses and out of the area. I was also inspired by the RITA [Riverside Island Tenants Association] women I met on Spike Island because they have such a strong sense of community which is exactly what I wanted to put in the play.
"What they do is just fantastic and what I love about them is just how strong they are" he adds "They had this little house on the estate that they met in and they wouldn't accept Council money to run the house. They used to do spot the ball which went around the estate that paid for its upkeep. And all the battles they fight is essentially taken from those women and put into the play with Shirley and her friends. I've tried to use that as much as I can."
Tinned Up centres on six characters who all lived on the `tinned up' street at some time and are still involved in community issues. As well as Shirley's fight to save her house, the committee are also trying to save a local park from developers and dodgy deals by councillors.
"That story was inspired by Light Oaks Park, with the baron getting involved at the last minute to save it" says Chris "I think they hired a private investigator to find the land deeds and that's what I've kind of done in the play. It's the positive side of winning against the Council."
The other inspiration for the play was an exhibition by photo journalist Ciara Leeming, which featured Salford people fighting demolitions and those living in similar areas elsewhere. One of the photos was of Sylvia Wilson standing in a tinned up street in Nelson…
"As soon as I saw that photo of Sylvia in the street I automatically saw the character of Shirley" says Chris "That's the image I wanted to use but I didn't know who she was, and when I found out that made it even more relevant."
Sylvia has not only led the fight against demolition on her own doorstep in Nelson but also runs the brilliant Homes Under Threat (HUT) organisation and actually came down to Salford a few years ago to advise those at the sharp end of Salford Council's demolition plans. They met in RITA's `little house' on Spike Island so the play's links to reality go on and on…
"Sylvia's given me feedback and we're still in dispute over whether the characters should have butties or not at their meetings" Chris laughs "But she's the biggest critic of the play, as she's been through everything that Shirley has been through."
Chris Hoyle is hoping that Salford people break the habit of a lifetime and actually go and see his play at The Lowry, which has helped to develop Tinned Up... "I think it's important that Salford voices should be heard in that environment" he explains.
The idea is to showcase the play at The Lowry and then take it around other venues in the North West. Chris, whose previous play The Newspaper Boy was staged at Contact Theatre and starred Suranne Jones, has also developed a tv version of the Tinned Up script which is already drawing interest from production companies.
In the meantime, if you want to see Salford's spirit on stage, drenched in poetic licence and spitting comedy and tragedy in equal measures, book a ticket (they're selling fast) and get down to The Lowry (if you can find a bus). And don't forget to tell all your friends at Salford Council to go too!
Tinned Up, written by Chris Hoyle, developed by The Lowry, staged by Shred Productions and directed by Trevor McFarlane.
The Studio at The Lowry
30th June - 2nd July 8pm (plus 3pm matinee Sat 2nd July)
Tickets: £5 For further details click here
* Main photo shows inspirational RITA women on Spike Island with visiting bloke from the Zapatistas