“The North of England is full of such interesting and spirited communities, loads of wonderful, surreal, striking people. I’ve known so many, yet I don’t really seem to see them in the theatre as audiences or characters.” Playwright and performer Michael Black is trying to change that with Starved. Read what he told us then book your tickets!
Black’s new play about a couple on the run, holed up in a squat on a northern estate premieres at the Bread and Roses Theatre from 30 April to 11 May 2019.
Lad and Lass are on the run. They’re Norther, working class and in a toxic relationship. Despite having negative effects on each others’ mental health, they’re determined to stay together. They’re squatting in an unused bedsit on one of Hull’s roughest estates, living a hand to mouth existence and surviving on a diet of roll ups, vodka and cuppa soups. As the walls start to cave in around them, this unhinged couple must make some tough decisions and face up to what they have done.
Starved is a gritty, fast-paced, character-driven dark comedy, examining the extremes people are willing to go to when desperate. It is the third play written by Black, whose first two productions, Pride and In the Wake Of were staged as part of the Camden and Clapham Fringe Festivals in 2018.
Black, who’s also a performer and director, recently starred in Sunrise for the Blind at Tristan Bates Theatre, alongside his Starved co-star Alana Connaughton. Matt Strachan, who previously directed Black’s In the Wake Of, reunites with the writer to direct Starved.
Starved is one of a number of productions in London this spring examining the experiences of working- and benefits-class communities. Acclaimed plays Killymuck and Box Clever play at the Bunker Theatre until 13 April, while Killing Nana, which Black is directing, runs at the Hen and Chickens theatre from 9-13 April.
It is also part of an eclectic spring at the Bread and Roses Theatre, that includes a revival of August Strindberg‘s The Weak Ones and new plays As We Unravel and Glass Half Full Theatre’s comedy about a sister trying to reconnect with her brother, Taking Liberties.
Starved runs at the Bread and Roses Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor St, Clapham, London SW4 6DZ from 30 April to 11 May 2019. with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £12. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!!
Michael Black interview
What inspired you to create Starved?
I wanted to write a play that represented where I came from. I lived in a council house in Hull and have experienced the good and bad, the lightness and darkness of growing up in a predominantly working class community. Starved is all based in truth and things that I’ve heard, seen and been through. I wanted to really turn the heat up on these characters and look at the extremes people can be driven to when they feel isolated, when they feel like they have no meaningful purpose or place in society. How far can we be pushed until we bite back?
The characters in Starved are called Lad & Lass. Why was it important they didn’t have specific names?
Lad and Lass are without specific names because they feel abandoned. In their minds, they’re just a statistic, a number on a chart, a box to tick. They have no individual responsibility because there has been such a lack of opportunity for them to participate except on the most basic levels. Go to work, pay the bills, sign on. They feel starved emotionally and like they don’t really matter.
Their relationship is described as toxic. What keeps them together?
Lad and Lass are holed up in this small space together, forgotten by society and forced to live like caged animals. They’re unable to really go outside and are surviving on fags, booze and crap food. The pressure and stress has brought out the worst versions of themselves, with no one else around they take it out on but each other. Despite all of that, all they have is each other, so they’re each other’s rock and in it until the end.
Why is this an important story to tell?
Starved felt natural to write because it’s based on something that actually happened, which left those involved feeling scared and alone. I’ve turned the heat up underneath it and taken it to a further extreme. From people I’ve spoken to, there are many people across the country that are feeling scared and alone, especially in areas that are similar to where I grew up. People are full of complexities and contradictions, so I wanted to explore it through these two characters.
Do you think working class stories are seen enough on stage?
My main reason for telling this story is to showcase a working class story on a London stage. The North of England is full of such interesting and spirited communities, loads of wonderful, surreal, striking people. I’ve known so many, yet I don’t really seem to see them in the theatre as audiences or characters; not as much as I’d like to anyway, considering the working classes make up the majority. When those stories are told, they’re sometimes cliched and not written by people who have actually experienced that world. I’ve been through it, so can tell you the words in Starved ring true.
How can we change that state of affairs?
More opportunities for those that didn’t take your standard path into the industry. especially in the North of England. I feel like a lot is being done currently in London and down South. But to grow up or live in London as an actor / writer / director etc is a privilege in itself. We need to be casting the net further afield and getting these programmes and opportunities everywhere.
You’re starring in your own play, but being directed by Matt Strachan. How do you find being directed in a piece that you wrote?
I have no problem handing the play over to Matt and just focusing on the acting side of things. We have a good working relationship and a similar way of working. We share the same vision and is really satisfying to focus on bringing it to life.
London audience may have seen Alana Connaughton & you in Sunrise for the Blind earlier this year. Why do you two work so well together?
We both really trust each other and have the same passion for the craft of creating a piece of theatre. During Sunrise we realised we had a similar preferred way of working. Together with Matt we’re creating the world, characters, scenes from the ground up, then we let all of that go and just respond in the moment, with a big emphasis on keeping it fresh, new and exciting each time.
How are you feeling about staging Starved at the Bread and Roses Theatre?
Really exciting to show audiences something new and original. Also excited as an actor to go out there and play.
What can audiences expect from a trip to see Starved?
The play has serious themes such as mental health, poverty, addiction but also has a lot of comedy and witty Yorkshire humour in there too. Starved is very character driven, it’s a fast-paced 60 minutes with no scenes changes or theatrical tricks, just two desperate human beings that have had a shit time of it.