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LIPA graduate aims to tackle Liverpool rivalries with new play.

12 months ago

LIPA graduate aims to tackle Liverpool rivalries with new play.

LIPA graduate goes Beyond the Line to tackle Liverpool and Manchester rivalry in new play

LIPA graduate Callum O’Brien is hoping to bridge the M62 gap with a new play about Liverpool and Manchester rivalry.

The teenage producer, who’s set up his own theatre company, Beyond the Line, after training at the city’s famous performing arts school, says:

“The idea is that we need to unite the cities more than ever. They have both got so much going for them. They are both Labour cities, they have got so much art and so much culture, and I think slowly over time they are getting pushed together.

“But there is always argument over things like football and music, with the Beatles versus Oasis and things like that, and we need to look at why it divides us, and what we can do to stop it.” We especially need to unite these two cities, and all northern cities, as the north-south gap gets bigger and wider.”

Two Cities – Half the World Away is the first production by 18-year-old Callum, from Litherland, and it’s been written by city playwright Nicky Allt, famous for works like Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels and One Night in Istanbul.

Rehearsals for Two Cities - Half the World Away
Credit: LIPA

“Nicky has been a bit of a mentor to me and he gets where I’m coming from,” says Callum. “We were speaking and he said he had this play he’d written four years ago, and did I want to look at doing something with it.

“It’s a new production so it’s really exciting and to get the opportunity to produce something like this, a play by Nicky, for me is huge.”

In the grand scheme of things, the play is about the great northern rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester.

But specifically, says Callum, it’s about two rival football supporters who find themselves locked up together.

“The play takes place in a police cell in St Helens where two lads find themselves locked up in 2016 having been stopped on their way to the Europa League tie on their way to Old Trafford and taken into custody for non-payment of fines. One is a United fan and one is a Liverpool fan,” Callum says. “You can imagine the arguments as they’re both locked away. They hate each other at first, and they’re fighting, but it kind of turns around on itself.

“Because of the way the police officer – who has his own problems – is with them, they put their anger and hate, their prejudices, to one side, and see that there’s much more to them and their two cities than their rivalry.

“It’s Liverpool and Manchester but it could be Leeds and Newcastle, or anywhere in the north, and in the wider picture when you look at the country post-Covid and with the world political situation, we all need to be united more than ever.”

The play starring Old Vic Theatre student Joseph Stanley as Scouser Liam, Jack Willis as Mancunian Terry, and Neil MacDonald as the police officer, Frank, is being performed at St Helens Theatre Royal on August 24-25.

Neil McDonald plays the role of Frank in Two Cities - Half the World Away
Credit: LIPA

“It was supposed to be at the Epstein until that closed – and I really hope it doesn’t close permanently,” says Callum. “So we chose to put it on at the Epstein’s sister theatre and, being in St Helens, where the play is set, it seemed like a good fit.”

Callum is hoping the play will tour across the North West and beyond eventually, and that it will launch a career that will take him all over the country and, eventually, to producing productions in the West End, and back to acting too – ‘my first love and passion’ – again.

“I had the most amazing training at LIPA, it’s one of the best courses in the North West (the country even) and while everyone gets the idea that they want to go to London and on to drama school, I didn’t want that, not least because of the massive cost,” he says. “It wasn’t for me.

“I set up Beyond the Line in the New Year, and I want to get out the messages that don’t necessarily reach people, that need to get talked about, but don’t. It’s using art to say something, the things that need to be said, and that’s important and it’s exciting.

“I have ambition and passion for what I do, and being from Liverpool, with its creativity, is very much a part of that. People say you have to go to London to make it big, but cities like ours have such a big cultural and artistic side to them, I’m not sure I agree.

“My ultimate goal would be to have a big show that can tour the UK, or go to the West End.” 

And the journey starts with Two Cities: “A chance to unite people in a room for two hours and go away with a good feeling at the end of it.”

Find tickets for Two Cities – Half a World Away at the St Helens Theatre Royal here

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