Macclesfield theatre company to perform first ever play about 1977 firefighter strike, set in town

  Posted: 22.07.21 at 09:37 by Alexander Greensmith

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A new Macclesfield theatre company will perform their first ever play - which was put on hold due to the pandemic.

'Bysmal Boys is the title of the first play by Northern Rep Theatre Company. It is set in Macclesfield, and is based on real stories from locals involved in the 1977 fire brigade strike.

The national strike, which took place over two months from November 14, 1977, saw fire workers demanding better pay for their life-saving services, a problem which was worsened from a significant increase of inflation that year.

Originally set to be performed in April 2020, Northern Rep Theatre company will debut a three show run of the 'Bysmal Boys this September at the Salford Arts Theatre.

The play was penned by Macclesfield writer Laura Genders, who has reunited with old mate Holden Oak to direct the play.

Laura’s Dad Glyn was partly inspiration for the play, having worked as a Firefighter for Macclesfield’s Blue Watch.

The play is produced by Macclesfield talent. Rehearsals have spanned almost three years due to the pandemic.

The Macclesfield playwright spoke to Macclesfield Nub News about the 'Bysmal Boys, ahead of the trio of shows from September 22-24 for the Manchester Fringe Festival.

“My dad is a retired firefighter and was 22 in 1977 when the strike happened,” she said.

“The name for the play comes from a time where they had an officer come over from the fire bridge headquarters in Winsford, that told the lads of Blue Watch that they were a bit abysmal.

“So taking a bit of responsibility my Dad and his workmates took the name on board and became the 'Bysmal Boys. It became bit of a nickname for the blue watch of Macclesfield.

“I grew up with all these stories, he was heavily involved with the union from when he joined up. It was a tough job to do. He retired at 50 from the fire service.”

Cast members are pictured rehearsing the play in a Macclesfield gym.

Laura’s father and his colleagues will hope to meet the cast and crew involved in the production which was inspired by them.

Many fire workers were in two minds about the strike, as they knew they would be temporarily abandoning their civic duty to protect people’s lives, but they felt they weren’t getting paid enough putting their own lives at risk.

Fire services across the country asked a 30 per cent increase, 20 per cent over the Labour government’s limit at the time.

Many lit braziers and campfires outside their stations to protest and make the case for a better wage.

Macclesfield and UK fire brigades also wanted to limit their contracts to 42 hours of work each week.

Rallying the strike around a brazier during rehearsal. Full time firefighters who work on four Watches - Red, White, Green and Blue, as the service works 24 hours a day. The focus for this play is the Blue Watch of Macclesfield in 1977.

James Callaghan’s government responded by declaring a state of emergency and replacing the on-strike firemen with the British Army.

The plays writing draws on Laura’s native background in the Silk Town and the stories she heard growing up in the Fire Brigade circles.

This play discovers universal voices of all who work in the public sector and the desperation, elation and camaraderie found in their professional and personal lives.

“It was almost 45 years ago, but it is still relevant,” added Laura.

“And obviously with COVID the kind of value that we have put in public services potentially needs to be re-evaluated.

More seats have just been released for the play’s debut run with the removal of COVID-19 restrictions.

The nine week strike earned the support of many unions from other fields, who supported the fire brigade workers.

This would later lead to more public sector trade unions asking for more pay in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ of 1978-1979.

It has rekindled Holden and Laura’s friendship, which dates back to 1995 at Macc’s former Ryles Park County High School.

The pair have co-founded the Northern Rep Theatre Company, who have waited through three lockdowns and undergone multiple cast changes to finally put on their debut production.

“I did theatre studies at A-level but then after getting a degree in criminology I did less drama,” said Laura.

The production will be two hours and 15 minutes long with an interval included.

“I moved to Australia for a few years and got back into amateur theatre. But it was only when I came to Macclesfield in 2014 that I reunited with my director and also started seeking professional work.

“We were struggling as working class northerners to find work, so we founded Northern Rep Theatre.

“The point of the theatre company is to promote northern actors - especially new graduates. We’ve got some fantastic theatre schools and talent in the north west.”

It is hoped the success of the initial run of the play, as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, will lead to more performances of the 'Bysmal Boys, or future plays by the Macclesfield theatre company.

Tickets for the three dates can be purchased here, and cost £10 for adults and £8.50 for concessions.

You can also find more about the 'Bysmal Boys on this website.

You can follow the Macclesfield founded theatre company on Northern Rep, Twitter, and Instagram.

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