Freedom Studios’s Alex Chisholm on North Country
Directed by Freedom Studio’s new co-artistic director Alex Chisholm (Nine Lives by award winning writer, Zodwa Nyoni), North Country tells the story of the survival of three Bradford teenagers – Harvinder, Nusrat and Jason – after a plague has hit the planet. Together and separately they struggle to survive, each bringing together their people and their communities as they try to remake their world. But their biggest challenge doesn’t come from starvation, or zombie like cannibals. It comes from within. TSOTA’s Rich Jevons talks to Alex about directing the new play.
What does North Country say about Bradford now and in the future?
I’m not sure if it is definitively say something about Bradford but it is trying to explore something about the city. It has been described as a ‘scarcity play’ and as we have been working on it that seems to have become more relevant. So it is about what happens to people and communities when they are under stress. And it feels at the moment that we are in a period of stress. So it talks about what that does to your identity and how people hold on to a very strong sense of identity when they feel under threat and how you need that strength to survive. But sometimes that comes up against other people’s identities and how you negotiate that. And I think what the play explores is how individuals make decisions within that, and the repercussions of that. How sometimes there are not any good decisions to make, so it is a choice between less bad ones.
It does talk about having grown up in Bradford during the 80s and Bradford for quite a few decades having been a place of scarcity and it is the remains of post-industrialism.
How does it fit into the post-apocalyptic genre?
I grew up reading a lot of post-apocalyptic fantasies so it is a genre that appeals to me. But normally these are quite some space away from where you are. But it is a genre that allows you to examine the big questions and asking what does it apply to me right here.
There is Nusrat who starts the play as a sixteen-year-old and is a girl of British Pakistani origins. She is quite a forceful character and a natural leader. Over the course of the play she gathers a clan around herself and leads it, based in Manningham. Then we have Jason and he starts the play as a fifteen-year-old lad who is based in Eldwick, so he is a country boy really. That is why he becomes powerful in the post-apocalyptic world because he knows about growing crops. Then you have Harvinder who is a young boy of British Indian Sikh heritage and he becomes the doctor. And the play is really seen from their three perspectives.
What is the nature of the plague?
We do not dwell along the lines of what the actual plague is so it is some sort of respiratory influenza that wipes out 99% of the population.
You mention about Brexit and the rise of the right, how does it deal with this?
They are just the background but it is more generally about the way people react when they are fearful. But then it is also about how you can make the best of the worst decisions. It is dealing with how leaders react too in those circumstances. It also looks at how people react to people who are different from themselves. So it is relating what it feels like to be under threat, how do we naturally react? So for me the most important thing is we treat everyone as human beings.
What appealed to you about using the Wild Woods, the now derelict Marks & Spencers building?
Freedom Studios are a company who perform in non-theatre spaces and I think this is a place that fits that. We are creating almost like an immersive environment for the world of the play. Darley Street is a place that meant something to Bradford as a community and people remember it from the 50s and 60s when it was the place to go and where the community came together. Then it emptied and was a ghost town and now there is an attempt to bring it back to life. So it seemed like the perfect place to do it.
What would you like a member of the audience to take away with them?
Firstly to have had a really good time, that it is an amazing experience and from that be thinking about all the characters and what they went through. And then what they would do in similar circumstances.
26 October – 5 November (No performances between 29 October – 1 November)
Wednesday 26 & Thursday 27 October at 7.30pm
Friday 28 October at 5pm
Wed 2-Saturday 5 November – 7.30pm
Friday 4 November – 5pm
Matinee performances- 3 & 5 November at 1.30pm
Running time: 1hr. Address: The Wild Woods, Darley Street, BD1 3HL (entrance on Piccadilly). Ticket prices £3, £5, or £10 tickets available pay what you decide. Tickets available from www.freedomstudios.co.uk or on the door (cash only).