24 September 2019.
53two at Oldham Coliseum.
Sixty-three-year old Shirley Parkin has lived at 10 Brook Street in Salford all her life. She now finds herself surrounded by streets of empty properties awaiting redevelopment. With metal shutters over the doors and windows, they’re all ‘tinned up’. In an attempt to deter any scavenging scallies, next door has a sign on the front – ‘ALL MATERIALS OF ANY VALUE HAVE BEEN REMOVED’. As Shirley’s letter of eviction arrives, Chris Hoyle’s play asks if it’s ever possible to put a price on home and community, and who really benefits when gentrification comes to town.
Staged as part of Oldham Coliseum’s annual Main House Takeover, the production sees Hoyle reunited with local theatre company 53two. The two of them have history, with 53two having successfully staged his play The Newspaper Boy in their former Manchester home last year. That site is now due to be transformed by the tidal wave of regeneration currently engulfing the city centre and, as a result, the company are currently without a theatre space to call their own. Nearly a decade after it was originally written, Tinned Up‘s story still feels relevant in so many ways.
Shirley’s living room has been assembled on the Coliseum’s main stage with an affectionate attention to detail by 53two stalwart David Howell. Net curtains, comfy sofa, knick-knacks, magazine rack, a television ‘hidden’ from the TV licence inspectors under a headscarf, and a big notice board covered with letters tracking her long battle to stay put. It feels cosy and lived-in – a real home not a show-house.
The only other person left on the street is young Daz who is debating the offer of a flat in Eccles with a new kitchen where he’d be able to perfect his popular space cake recipe. He’s not the only person to pop around regularly though. There’s a steady stream of former neighbours supporting Shirley in her struggle to stay put in her home, and also banding together to stop developers building new houses on the local park. They’ve all moved on, but something keeps pulling them back. “We were not just neighbours, we were friends”.
Chris Hoyle’s script is a joy, with a cracking story, down-to-earth dialogue and a real sense of place. It’s a heady mix of humour, plain-speaking and pathos, with some plot twists and a bunch of likeable characters. However, the play’s mission to entertain is never at the cost of the issues it’s seeking to explore. If anything it’s more subtle than the periodic high-jinks might lead you to believe. Shirley’s motivation for wanting to remain in her home is more complex than it first appears. There’s also the occasional reminder that change isn’t always a bad thing, and that progress comes in many guises.
There’s a nice sub-plot about ‘scally with a heart’ Daz learning to read, and re-engaging with education, as he realises he “can’t live in trackies all my life“. His caring relationship with Shirley offers some of the play’s most touching moments, and Keaton Lansley’s performance is extremely well-judged. As Sue, the former neighbour who camps out to get one of the new ‘upside down‘ houses (with “wet room and built-in bike shed“), Amy Drake is the show’s very funny guilty pleasure. Unable to see the irony of paying a fortune to move back into the area she’s just been turfed out of, she’s fascinated by the peculiarities of her soon-to-be new neighbours from down south.
Everything revolves around Karen Henthorn’s big, dynamic and emotionally rich central performance as Shirley. Sharp as a tack when it comes to getting at the truth of the decisions behind the new housing developments, her character struggles, however, to let go of the past. In her mind ‘then’ and ‘now’ begin to blur, and she is haunted by the community that used to surround her. Henthorn is a total delight, and her acting prowess powers the production to a higher level.
It’s not all plain sailing though. There are a few too many fluffed lines and misjudged moments from members of the cast, which were hopefully the result of first night nerves or a lack of rehearsal time. More critically, the direction lacks rigour, with some pacing issues, especially in both the opening scene and the over-extended final act.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take the shine off Chris Hoyle’s lively and incisive script or undermine the strong and engaging performances at the heart of this timely production. As eye-catching cranes currently crowd out Manchester’s skyline in record numbers, Tinned Up powerfully reminds us to shift our gaze back down to earth to consider the human cost of regeneration.
Images by Shay Rowan