The whole Brexit conundrum may be dividing the nation but that hasn’t stopped first-time playwright and stand-up comedian Stan Wallace from having his say and encouraging us to have ours. As one of the acts of The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, he is bringing his show, Tales from Northern Britain, to our fair city.
The festival runs from July 1 to 31 and features an army of performances cropping up in all sorts of venues. Audiences can expect a slew of entertainment including Scottish Falsetto Socks, a musical about Boudicca and A Broadcast to the End of the World.
“I love gigging in Manchester,” says Liverpool-based Wallace. “The comedy scene in Manchester is really tight-knit, particularly the North West open mic scene. Mancunians and Scousers have more in common than they think. They vote Labour and they voted Remain.”
These voting behaviours and the seemingly endless rollercoaster of modern-day politics interested Wallace enough to make the leap from stand-up comedian to playwright. “It’s my debut. The Fringe tell me to tell everyone that,” he laughs. “I’ve been doing stand-up for a year. The show contains comedy, it is about regional identity. I want the audience to hear my take on it, but to think, ‘where do I fit in?’.”
Wallace is particularly interested in how the 2016 European Union Referendum has changed the landscape for our regional identity. “The referendum lifted a lid on this country and it’s not a good thing. Manchester and Liverpool were mainly Remain, but other smaller towns that are also Labour were Leave and that’s interesting.”
While Wallace wants the performance to be thought-provoking, he is aware that people are coming to enjoy themselves. “I want people to be entertained. I mention a study that was done in 2008 which showed faecal matter on people’s hands. The further North it went, the more there was. So why did the North vote leave? Because they had more shit on their hands.”
Although essentially a one-man show, Wallace drafts in fellow comedian Scarlet Dobson. “She is southern but lives in Manchester,” he says. “In the open mic world, there’s not much political stuff. People tell racist jokes and play to the crowd, but this show is an exploration through the prism of comedy. Everyone is affected by what’s happening now.”
He adds: “People voted Leave, but it felt rushed. I felt rushed into voting Remain.”
Wallace is clearly fascinated by the current political situation. “A lot of people have belittled Leavers. There is a lot of bigotry. I think people saw voting Leave as anti-establishment. People are now deriving their identity from this. We should be talking about what we want from the EU rather than winner takes all.”
He is keenly aware that this new political climate has shone a light on corners of British society that have gone unexplored for too long. “It has opened up the discussion about poverty in the North to the South. I have had time to think about why I voted like I did, but a lot of people don’t care. That is why I despise [Nigel] Farage, he seized on people’s insecurities.”
Wallace reminds me of the comedians of the 80s who stood up for what they believed in while making us laugh at the ridiculous and scary situations we find ourselves in. “I see no reason why we can’t talk about these things in comedy,” he says. “I live in a major city but have to wait 30 minutes for a train. In London they are every few minutes. There is a bigger issue there.”
So where does he see things going?
“I literally don’t know. I’d love to go beyond this and have a series of city states. Imagine the Battle for Warrington. It could work.”
He adds: “I’d like to turn this show into a normal set. We need to have a laugh about current affairs. If someone wants to buy me a pint after the show and have a chat about this, I’d love it.”
Tales of Northern Britain is at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on July 13, 2019, Gullivers Lounge on July 22 and Hope Aria House in association with Hope Mill Theatre on July 27. For more information, or to book tickets, click here. Pints for Wallace can be bought at the bar.