INTERVIEW: Queen of the North | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Lucy Harding

When you think of the North East’s most iconic features, what comes to mind? The Angel of the North? The Tyne? Multi-award winning artist and performer Tommy may make a bold argument for a new icon: Stockton-on-Tees’ bi-weekly town market. He’s been working with ARC Stockton for a little over a year now, and in that time has developed a deep connection with the town.

As an artist making work for the region, I wanted to soak up local culture as much as possible to figure out what people in Teesside and the North East want in a piece of theatre.”

Upon arriving from his home in Brighton to the exotic and unknown lands of Stockton, a formative experience at the beloved Queen of the North inspired a new show all about it. “Last year, my director Scott Le Crass and I went to get lunch in the market. Scott – a working class Brummie – tried to pay with his card. It turned into a 15 minute sketch of us trying to pay for this pie. Scott turned to me and said, ‘We need to make a show about this market.’ I became fascinated with the parallels between money, working class narratives and the market… I’ve thought about what being working class means to me throughout this whole project and the differences between being working class in the South versus the North.”

Us locals rarely get an insight into the Southerner’s perspective when they visit the region, but Tommy fuelled his creativity by researching our differences – which fed Queen of the North the most. 

I became fascinated with the parallels between money, working class narratives and the market

One of the biggest culture shocks is the price. Prices have gone up here because of the cost of living crisis, but the South is just out of control. There’s also the timeslips you can experience up in the North East – you walk down an old cobbled street and then come across a B&M. Period parts mix with brand new modernism – it’s so rare to find down South. Our set and costume designer, Lu Herbet is from Leeds, and we spoke about how the South would’ve been focused on more in World War II, and about the government focusing on the South. The effect that has had on culture, buildings and shops is something we explore in the set and costume design in the show.”

As a visitor to the region, Tommy has ensured that the voices of the community he’s representing are loud and clear in the work itself. “There is no one size fits all approach to community engagement. I’ve hosted pizza parties, we’ve had a postbox at ARC which received over 350 stories about the market, and our production assistant Kieran spent 16 weeks at the market talking to all of the traders. Five voice-actors from the region are voicing a variety of roles, and I really hope it brings together all the community stuff we’ve done over the last few months.”

Tommy hopes to have captured the spirit of Stockton and the market, refracted through the lens of an outsider who’s grown to appreciate this little market town almost as much as its inhabitants. “I’ve made this show for Teesside and the North East to capture the essence of the community up here. I really hope it makes the piece feel authentic. A lot of the script is made up from direct quotes from my community outreach. As an artist, I also wear many different hats with my intersections – queer, working class, disabled and neurodivergent. If you fit into one of these, you might get something completely different out of it than you expect to.”

Queen of the North is performed at ARC, Stockton from Thursday 4th-Friday 5th July.

 

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