The spirit of Manchester is alive and well on stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Amy Lever, 21, grew up in Manchester and has used her experiences at a Jewish faith school as the inspiration for a coming-of-age production, Life Before The Line.
“I wanted to write fully rounded three-dimensional Northern characters who just happen to be Jewish as well,” she says. “In terms of the significance of the story, of the play, it is crucial that it is set in Manchester because so much of the events in the show arose from real events that happened in Manchester at this time, which include the Manchester Arena bombing.”
She adds: “I wanted to include this as audiences that aren’t Jewish and aren’t northern will know and will remember and will be able to connect with it.”
At the heart of this production, Lever has challenged traditional representations of British Northern characters that, too often, are the comic relief on stage.
Without giving away too much, the show epitomises Manchester. Through the eyes of students Esty (Emma Kentridge), Danny (Abraham Alswaf), Sara (Arabella Alhaddad), and Allister (Jacob Benhayoun), the audience is taken back to 2016 and the last GCSE revision lesson before exams. Without warning, this is disrupted by the school’s terrorism drill. The story follows the students’ perspectives, switching back and forth between the present and the past.
Lever says that her own experiences fed into the final manuscript, including how her school prepared for community-targeted hate crimes. “The school installed an alarm to be cautious, but luckily we never had a proper full-on moment where the drill was real.”
She continues: “One of the main themes in the play was class divides that do exist. Esty is one of the middle-class characters, she lives in South Manchester, and that is a point of tension in her relationship with Allister who is working-class.”
Diversity is key when it comes to the various characters, all of whom are pieces of one big picture. In this sense, there’s a character for each member of the audience.
Lever says: “Sara as Arabella is very relatable. She says what the audience is thinking. Her inability to be dishonest with the people she’s closest to, I relate to her in that aspect.
“Allister as Jacob tries to navigate everything through, whether it’s successful or not, he tries to navigate everything with a smile and a bit of cheek.”
Life Before The Line is one of 55,000 shows at Edinburgh Fringe Fest. But what of Life Before The Line? Previously staged at Cambridge’s Emmanuel College, the cast and crew are continuing to collect donations to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in tribute of Lever’s classmate Dylan Samuels, who died in 2015 from the condition. Donations can be made through ‘Amy’s Page’ on JustGiving.
Main image: Amy Lever by Benjamin Nicholson
Life Before The Line is at Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 27, 2022. For more information, click here.