FEATURE: Trolley Boy’s David Raynor – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Trolley Boy is a new theatre piece created with writer, David Raynor, over the past three years through Alphabetti Theatre’s new writing schemes and is now in rehearsals ahead of a run at Alphabetti Theatre from Tuesday 10th until Saturday 14th July and Arts Centre Washington on Thursday 19th and Friday 20th July. We caught up with writer David Raynor to find out more about what inspired the work. 

My play, Trolley Boy, is set in Washington, Tyne and Wear, in the early 90s.  The ‘hero’ of the story, Colin, rides the streets in a shopping trolley fighting crime. Colin is facing some very difficult challenges.  He decides that the only way to deal with these is to become a super-hero….

Behold Trolley Boy!

Like many teenagers, I became bored and disdainful of the place in which I had grown up. The only good thing to come out of Washington was the X5 bus to Newcastle. This new town offered nothing but familiarity and the cold embrace of concrete bridges, roundabouts and an endless maze of pedestrianised pathways leading through subways and on to more pedestrianised pathways leading…nowhere. Each village was a numbered district; no name required, no identity: that was Washington.  Like most villages in Washington mine was in close proximity to The Galleries shopping centre. To me The Galleries was the dead heart of the corpse I had the misfortune to call home. Trolleys clung to bushes and carrier bags flapped in the breeze like flags mocking the subjects of this drab, decaying kingdom.  To me, aged 16, with a restless hunger for travel and experience, there was nothing inspiring about Washington.  Yet here I am, years later, writing a play very much inspired by my experiences of growing up there.

My village was called Blackfell. It was split in two: the bottom part was the sprawling council estate in which I lived, and the top part was known to us as ‘the poshies’ or ‘the privates’ (as in private homes). Some who lived in the top half would campaign to separate themselves from the council estate by re-naming their part of the village Hawthorn Park. My part of the village was made up, predominantly, of concrete blocks with flat roofs, that many in the town sneeringly called ‘Lego-land’. The council, in all their wisdom, thought, at some point in the 80s, that the best way to improve the look of these blocks was to have the sides painted in bright yellow and pink.  It is in this world that Trolley Boy roams, seeking justice in his ‘super-fast Asda trolley’. 

A few years later ‘Lego-land’ would be demolished, and the residents would be scattered in to neighbouring villages. To me this town was a wasteland. I had to get out.  I didn’t know what the world had to offer, but I was sure it was better than this.

In the summer holidays after leaving school, a friend of mine handed me an invitation to attend a theatre project. The invitation wasn’t for me, it was for my friend’s older sister (who couldn’t attend).  The letter informed me of a summer theatre project that would be rehearsing at All saints Church, just up from The Quay Side in Newcastle. 

It was a warm, sunny day and me and my mate Mick wandered up to the large, foreboding entrance. The door was shut so we knocked loudly. The knock echoed through the building but nobody came. We started to walk away. That was it. We would, with some relief; head back to Washington and go back to things as they were. We were half way down the hill when we heard the door open.

We turned.

A smiling face looked out at us.

“Are you guys here for the theatre thing?’.’

I took in the figure that was speaking; a tall, pale hippy called Derek who sounded like he smoked a lot of illegal cigarettes.  He was wearing colourful patchwork trousers.

Mick and I smiled nervously and stepped in to the building. I didn’t know it then, but if Derek hadn’t opened the door just at that moment, my life would have been very different.

After a week or so at All Saints Church we continued with rehearsals at a small theatre just down the hill. Live Theatre. I’d never heard of it. The sign above, what appeared to be the door, was faint, with paint flaking off and there never appeared to be many people around.  At that time Live Theatre felt more like a hole in the wall than the fine building it is today. I loved it. It had that dusty smell that all old theatres have, but what I soon realised was: Live wasn’t like most theatres.  I believed that theatres were generally for posh people, but the stories, characters and voices I would see and hear on this stage were of working class communities in the North-East.  A Geordie theatre! It was here I would first see plays such as Cooking With Elvis by Lee Hall and Bones by Peter Straughan.  Plays like this were a revelation.  They spoke my language, told jokes I understood, showed me characters I recognised.  They combined comedy and tragedy, hope and hopelessness, darkness and light. Above all they were fantastic plays.

It’s no exaggeration to say that youth theatre changed my life. In those early years we toured the community centres of Tyneside performing plays about ‘twockers’, racism and child-abuse. I was involved in Anglo- German projects exploring xenophobia and nationalism. I had my first flight abroad (to Germany). We’d perform in night-clubs and car parks, and in tents. We’d perform with international groups, making friends with people from all around the world. Meeting all of these people and performing with them made me know a different version of myself. It made me see a world that was so much more exciting than the one I’d grown up in. 

Later, I would attend Live’s own Youth Theatre run by Paul James. By this time I had started studying drama at university, but the most valuable lessons would be from youth theatre.   Paul was a great director (still is, though it’s been years since I’ve worked with him as an actor), infinitely patient and full of fun and laughter. I learned most of what I know about directing from working with him. Through Live Youth Theatre I got my first acting agent who then got me my first jobs (one of which was playing Stuart in Cooking With Elvis!). Through youth theatre I would perform a 45-minute one-man show. Through youth theatre I would go to Australia and learn about film production with Robson Green. Through youth theatre I had my first taste of writing.

In 2014 I attended Live Writers group to develop my play writing skills.  In 2015 I had a short version of Trolley Boy accepted to be performed for Live’s 10 Minutes To Take Off.  The play went down well with the audience and it was then that Alphabetti Theatre asked me to write a long version.

And it’s Trolley Boy that brings me back to Washington. So much of my experience growing up there has informed Trolley Boy.  There are so many stories and characters that are alive in my memory from that place and that time.  The idea of a boy riding in a shopping trolley came from me and my mates racing trolleys through the streets.  The Washington that I had tried so desperately to escape from as a 16 year old kid seems to keep calling me back.

Now I look differently at the place in which I grew up. The people I knew, the friends and neighbours who coloured my childhood, were some of the warmest and funniest I have ever known.  Even the dodgy characters, and the pink and yellow streets brought me gifts: writing inspiration!

Trolley Boy is at Alphabetti Theatre from Tuesday 10th until Saturday 14th July and Arts Centre Washington on Thursday 19th and Friday 20th July.

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