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An interview with the cast of 'Blackout: Tales of storm Desmond'


Community cast of Blackout in the Dukes' Round Theatre
Community cast of Blackout
Peter Clarke

Interview with the The Dukes cast presenting Blackout: Tales of Storm Desmond

Virtual-Lancaster was delighted to have a chance to sit in on one of the rehearsals of Blackout: Tales of Storm Desmond. This is a forthcoming play by Sarah McDonald-Hughes, directed by Alex Summers, recounting the effects of the storm which devastated Lancaster, Morecambe and Carnforth two years ago.

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The script is based on stories recounted by those affected by the storm. The bulk of the actors are non-professional, being drawn from the community via the Dukes 'Inclusive Theatre' initiative including 'Prime Time' and 'Red BananaLlama'

Inclusive theatre details

Interview with the cast

Sue (actor): Hi I'm Sue and I'm a complete novice. I just saw the information on The Dukes website [about Blackout] and for some reason, unknown to myself, I thought 'I might just have a go at that'. So that why I'm here, because we all remember storm Desmond. It was a really big event in Lancaster and it is quite exciting to be part of this. I did say I didn't want too many lines to learn, but that's not the hard part. What I'm finding is the hardest part is remembering where I'm supposed to be and where I'm supposed to go and that sort of thing. People are on all sides of us.

Peter (virtual-lancaster): So is this the start of an acting career or is this a one off?

Sue: Who knows? [laughter]

Peter: Are you Enjoying it?

Sue: Yes, it's a very steep leaning curve, but it's really good.

Actor 1: I was a 'Prime Time' player, which is an excellent group for the over fifty-fives. We kind of got told about this [Blackout] and I thought this is a really good opportunity to do a performance with a lot of other people and a professional director. I'm really enjoying it. It's like an extension of what we were doing [in PrimeTime]. It's been very bonding and it's really nice to meet all the other people.

Peter: I hadn't appreciated that people could turn up for Blackout for the first time without a professional acting background. I assumed a small cast and that was the cast that was always taking part in these ...

Actor 1: Anybody can have a go at joining the Blackout community cast. Anyone can come to Prime Time. I think there are two professional actors and the rest of us aren't.

Mimi (actor): Hello I'm Mimi and I'm also in 'Prime Time'. Apart from 'Prime Time' I've had no acting experience at all. I was kind of persuaded [to join] thinking I would be walking around. I didn't realize I had to speak which was viewed as a shock. I find leaning lines quite difficult, but I'm really really enjoying it. The Prime Time will take anybody, the only criterion is that you have to be over fifty-five.

Peter: If anybody wanted to know more about Prime Time, is there a phone number or a website.

Alex (director): There is a website, the Dukes Website and you can get all the information about our participatory groups from there. There are quite a few members of Prime time here, 'Prime Time' members hands in the air. [cheers]

Peter: So is everybody here just doing this particular performance or are there people here who have been associated with the Dukes for a long period of time?

Actor 2: Yes, a long period of time. I was first introduced here when I was twenty and I put a submission in for Blackout. I think I must now be in some sort of mid-life crisis. My intention was to work backstage and now I've ended up with a speaking part.

Claire (actor): I also been involved with the Dukes for about four or five years and am actor as well, not one of the professional actors but I'm getting there.

Alex: Claire co-delivers with another group of ours, called Banana Llama and Ian is with our alternative outcomes group so he performs with another of our groups for adults, and Andy, do you want to tell us your story.

Andy (actor): I was just going to sit here quietly [laughter]. Well back in the early 90s I was in the youth theatre here so I've performed in this space a long time ago. I saw, well actually my Mum pushed me to come to this and I told Alan here about it and I thought I would come along to see what its all about and then happily go away and not do anything about it [laughter]. But it looked interesting and so I decided to go along for the ride. I'm having a bit of a mid life crisis as well, but I'm quite excited to be involved.

Peter: And so there is no stage fright or nerves, just general anticipation and excitement?

Claire: I just get excited, I don't get too frightened. I get excited on the opening night that's all.

Peter: So was anybody here involved with the blackout, I mean suffered from Desmond? I suppose quite a few.

Actor 3: Yes. I submitted stories, I'm sure I'm not the only one. Quite a few have put stuff forward.

Alex: So just to speak on peoples behalf I know that Mary has got a very unique story, where do you live Mary.

Mary (actor): I live in Halton and [during Desmond] the river Lune was splashing against our patio doors. It didn't come in, but it was a force of nature. It was quite terrifying. In the middle of the night we were digging sand from a children's sand-pit and putting it in pillow cases, to block off the door and things.

Peter: Did you get flooded?

Mary: We didn't but the Police said that if it had risen another inch, they would have evacuated us.

Alex: And I know, well actually he is not here, but a member of the coast guard, in our community company who was part of the relief effort and Lisa managed the Ridge Community Centre which is a flood resilience...

Lisa (actor): Yes, we had just started. We'd just taken over the Ridge Community Centre when storm Desmond started, about literally six weeks before and we were having to go and try to help, because we have a high number of ageing population up there and they were without power. At that part nobody could get in, and as a result of that we have become an emergency response centre now. So should it ever happen again we have a plan in place which helps that community to deal with it. There was a large pot of money released shortly after, and different companies, well organizations like myself, could bid for up to ten thousand pounds to equip themselves to become a flood response centre. Now we have built into the city councils flood plan.

Peter: What do you use the money for?

Lisa: We have got the money for a big generator and switch gear so that people can come to our centre for hot drinks, food, things like that, light, heating. We have a community warden programme in place and have, I think its fifteen people, who go around their designated areas should something like this happen to check on people and bring them to the centre. We have blankets, torches, batteries. It's the time taken to coordinate all that.

Alex: And just on behalf of the Dukes everyone has been fantastic. I've been very very proud of everyone so far. We've been working really really quickly and as people say there is a lot to remember in terms of where you stand; we are sending people on journeys. They are in and out of scenes. They come in from one door and go out the next and they are into the next scene, playing a different character. Everyone has been tremendous. I haven't had a chance to say it yet, but I'm very very proud of everyone, I'm very excited and after tonight we will have done our first run-through of all the ensemble team. So we should be in a very good place after tonight. So keep up the good work folks.

Separate interview with Steve Mcgarry

Steve is an actor, involved with Blackout, who also works with Age UK in dementia support. He describes their partnership with the Dukes.

Steve: I work for Age UK in the dementia support team, and part of that is we work in partnership with the Dukes theatre. We provide for people with short term memory loss and also early onset of dementia whatever that might be, whether its Alzheimer's, Lewy Bodies dementia, or vascular dementia. That how I'm known to people within the Dukes. I was invited to be part of Blackout. It affected a lot of people. Within the geographical area of Lancaster, Haysham and Morecambe. So thats how I was approached and asked to be part of it. So I'm playing the area manager from the North West electricity board.

What the Dukes can provide [for dementia support] is to help keep people in their own homes for as long as possible with whatever the problem is. It doesn't have to be dementia. And so the carers, under the community care act, have been lost in years gone by. Now we get together and we make sure they have their own assessment under the community care act. A lot of clients with early onset dementia will be coming because their carers are aware of Blackout. So they are interested and I do know there will be people coming to the performance who have early onset dementia.

Peter: Is it common for theatres or cinemas or whatever to cater specifically for people with early onset dementia? I don't know anybody who does it apart from here.

Steve: There is actually [support] throughout the UK now. There's what we call hubs setting up. So here in Lancaster we have the hub on the first Friday every month at St John's Hospice. What that provides is all the professions will be there and people can walk in off the street to meet with whatever professional they want, whether it be social services, a lawyer, benefits, the nursing side. It can be anything that supports people within the community.

Louise (Press officer): The Dukes programme [for dementia support] is called 'A Life More Ordinary'. We were a pioneer in doing this and it's a three year programme. It's actually been rolled out to other venues across the country. so there's places in Wales, and in Staffordshire. They come here to see what we do.

Steve: The dementia support team for Age UK is a free service, so again if we take the cinema for example, the carers come free and the person who has the dementia will pay the four quid or whatever it is. With that ticket they get the pastry and the cuppa free, so it's well balanced across the board. The cakes and soft drink etc. are provided voluntarily so there is no charge for that. If people wish to leave a donation they can do, but they don't have to.

Louise: The Dukes has got substantial funding [for this] from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Peter: Thank you

This reviewer was extremely impressed both by the enthusiasm of the director and cast; and by the level of general fun involved in being part of this show. My thanks go to the Dukes, to press officer Louise Bryning for organising my visit and to all those working hard to bring this exceptional play to the stage.