“It’s about community and the people around you.” Playwright Chris Hoyle talks to Northern Soul
“Once I was sacked from Corrie, I had enough to probably buy a small terraced house,” says Chris Hoyle. “But instead I spent obscene amounts of money on designer clothes.”
Hoyle, who began his creative career as an actor, is the brains behind a play called Tinned Up. As the playwright for this new work, he has written about victims of regeneration as well as a matriarchal hero, Shirley Parkin, who refuses to be thrown out of her home on a bought-out street.
Hoyle has form when it comes to creativity. His critically acclaimed play, The Newspaper Boy, is based on his experience of being thrown off Coronation Street. While playing a young character, he was apprehended by police with a small amount of cannabis. By the time Hoyle left the show, he had earned more money than many of the other 14-year-olds in Middleton and, most likely, more than their parents.
There are a number of parallels in Hoyle’s new work. Simon Naylor, artistic director of Manchester’s 53two and director/producer of Tinned Up, is on the brink of being turfed out of the arches in Manchester, just as the protagonist is about to lose her home. Nevertheless, 53two and Naylor’s Manchester Actors’ Platform have teamed up with Oldham Coliseum as part of the theatre’s Main House Takeover to tell this story.
When I spoke to Hoyle about his career to date and his love of Northern voices, he admitted that, during his time as an actor, “I went bald in my early 20s. And couldn’t get any acting work.”
Fortunately, Hoyle’s earnings from Corrie had been safely stored in a high interest account which he was able to access when he was older. So, how did he manage to spend it all?
“I needed to buy myself a school coat. I had to get some money out of my Post Office account, and I needed permission off my Mum in a signed letter. So, I kind of figured out I could forge my Mum’s signature and get the same amount of money out again. So unbeknown to my Mum I was, every month, drawing stuff out. The woman in the Post Office thought that I had my mother’s consent. I’d drawn out the lot by the time I was 17.”
During the Post Office years, Hoyle enjoyed a hedonistic rite of passage into Manchester’s 90s clubbing scene and being out in the gay village just at the point that it went from dingy to trendy. By the age of 17, Hoyle’s life had a storyline on a par with any continuing drama. Two years later, he secured a scholarship to the Webber Douglas Academy Drama School.
Though a great experience, Hoyle wishes that he’d come to writing at that stage. “I regret not writing earlier because the people I went to drama school with were going to the Royal Court Young Writers’ programme led by Simon Stephens and I just wasn’t interested. I thought I was gonna be an actor. But in the end, I hated it. I hated how it didn’t make you feel empowered as an artist and then I started writing.”
I first read Tinned Up many years ago in its original form and, like all of Hoyle’s plays, I was immersed in his world. Hoyle crafts his plays to preserve the heritage of his class and culture. Meanwhile, mirroring how Hoyle eventually began writing, the story of Tinned Up came to him as a revelation.
“I took a wrong turning going to my mate’s house in Salford and ended up in a tinned up street [a street ready for demolition, boarded up by metal plates on the windows and doors where the residents had received a compulsory purchase payment] and in the middle was this house with someone living in it. This dirty great big street boarded up with this one, most lived-in house I’d ever seen.”
This struck a chord with Hoyle and what that lone house represented. “It’s about community and the people around you and about how we don’t realise what community is.”
The house, like a shining beacon of a lost community, made him think about who would want to stay on that street.
“Some people don’t want to move on and shouldn’t. They’re at the end of their life and they have an emotional attachment to their home. If someone came along and just bulldozed right through that and said, ‘you’ve got no choice’, how would you feel about it? So, it just became the great premise for a play.”
Parkin, played by Karen Henthorn, is an homage to an archetypal Northern character and fits with Hoyle’s idea of preserving the language of the North for posterity.
“I always remember Tony Warren talking about how he came up with the idea of Coronation Street by being sat under a kitchen table, listening to these women and, to be honest, my dialogue and my ear for dialogue has come from my family [such as] my Nanna and my Aunty Barbara and the way they are.”
I hope that the play gets a longer run. And I hope that Shirley Parkin stays in her rightful home for as long as possible.
Tinned Up is showing at Oldham Coliseum until September 26, 2019. For more information or to book tickets, click here.
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