HOMELESSNESS has always been a big issue in Manchester, with numbers of homeless people rising each year. Play writer Laura Lindsay has been working with the Harrogate Homeless Project and Crisis on Parallel, a play focusing homelessness that will come to the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester.
Parallel is a play with a cast of just three women, playing rotating roles. This unusual tactic allows the audience to have a key part to play in choosing which actress plays which character. They roll a dice before the play officially starts, giving the actresses around 30 seconds to get into character and get straight into the play.
The three characters, Anna, Beth and C are three women all in different stages of their lives and in what could be viewed as different stages of homelessness. They are represented by their individual shoes, bags and jackets, which let the audience know which actress is playing which character.
Many plays have aspects of audience interaction but none to this extent. I spoke to Laura Lindsay who wrote and produced Parallel as well as one of the actresses about the unusual pre-performance idea.
Laura said: “It came to me one day that it would be a good reflection of the themes of the play, like homelessness can happen to anyone and that a lot of the outcome of our lives is dependant on pure chance. That element of chance felt right to present as part of the theatre and it keeps it a changeable fresh performance every night in a really exciting way.”
When asked about why she chose such a small cast she added: “I wanted to write an all female piece that wasn’t peculiar to it being women but it just so happened that the cast happened to be women, and I wanted to write something that was addressing the housing and homelessness crisis.”
Laura is the driving force for this play asking her what this whole process has meant for her she said:
“I wanted to write something that was addressing the homelessness crisis, I need to do something about this inequality and I don’t know what to do other than make a piece of theatre about it. It has been a huge period of discovery for me both artistically and politically. I’ve grown, I’ve questioned I’ve felt utterly unworthy and an imposter in writing it but I’ve also thought no, have some faith.”
Being one character can be hard enough for some actors, but being three complex characters can be overwhelming for even the best of actors. I spoke to Arabella Gibbins to find out what it takes to learn a full play word for word. “As long as I’m centred and as long as I’m focused 100% on the character I can just lock in to whatever character I’m playing that night, usually. Once I’ve got the lines down, the fun part and the challenging part is breathing life into the characters.
A big part of why I love this play is because you learn all three parts, I’ve never had to do this before and its really exciting because you have to know and understand every angle of every character. And the massive challenge of rolling the dice in front of the audience really keeps you on your toes.”
Even though this is a play that seems dominated by women, I was assured by both Laura and Anabella that this wasn’t a key theme in the play itself, the play has been written in such a way that gender doesn’t come into it. It focuses on the human element, emotions and dealing with the situations that could fall upon any of us.
James Baker was a key influence in the play, working with Laura in a directing role. I asked him what he thought about working with an all female cast and what he thought about directing a play with no set roles.
“I realised a week in that’s there is six plays, six versions and that excites me but its been absolutely testing, in a good way! With that comes a lot of hard work and a lot of trust. You have to direct this show in a unique way but its working and it’s been a blessing.”
In his words James called the play “exciting, entertaining but not scared to deal with the real real issue of homelessness.”
It’s clear how much effort and passion everyone involved with Parallel has put in to make it something that can be accessible to everyone, yet still bring a social truth to the forefront of our minds in a thoughtful and including way.
The Parallel tour starts on November 1 at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester and will be there until November 5. It then moves to ARC in Stockton for a 7pm showing on November 9. November 11 Parallel will be at Derby Theatre for a single showing at 8pm, then going on to Lincoln Drill Hall with 8pm showings from November 17 – 19. The final show will be a Square Chapel, Halifax on November 24 at 8pm.
It is a play like no other before and something that shows how much choice can have a big impact in our lives, no matter who we are or where we come from.