In Interview: Becky Prestwich Talks CHIP SHOP CHIPS

Playwright Becky Prestwich - Chip Shop Chips -HE4A7955-WEB

Becky Prestwich during rehearsals of CHIP SHOP CHIPS. Image Credit: Lucas Smith

Playwright Becky Prestwich chats to Frankly My Dear UK about CHIP SHOP CHIPS

Following the success of STREETLIGHTS AND SHADOWS (2007) and LETTING IN AIR (2009), Becky Prestwich makes a welcome return to the stage with CHIP SHOP CHIPS, a funny and nostalgic tale of love over fish and chips.

Commissioned by Box of Tricks Theatre Company, CHIP SHOP CHIPS is a play about love, family, nostalgia and nation’s favourite food. The play made its premiere at The Hub in Salford in 2016 (check out what we thought of it here) and is now set to tour the country later this month.

Becky has certainly had her fair share of success as a writer over the past 10 years. Alongside her stage work, the accomplished North West playwright also writes for radio and TV. Her first radio play CHOPPING ONIONS was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2013 starring Maureen Lipmann and her second, ALIYAH was broadcast last year starring Gillian Bevan. Becky is currently writing for BBC One’s continuing drama DOCTORS, but admits theatre has always remained her first love.

In CHIP SHOP CHIPS, the action takes place at the grand reopening of Booth’s Fish and Chip Shop. Prodigal son Eric has returned home after forty years to run the family business following his father’s death. On the opening night, his childhood sweetheart Christine turns up, hoping to reignite old flames. Meanwhile, a romance also sparks up between teenagers Lee and Jasmine. Can nostalgia and a portion of fish and chips bring the lovers together or is history sure to repeat itself?

In anticipation for its premiere next month, Frankly My Dear UK caught up with writer Becky Prestwich to find out about the new play and what inspired her to write about the nation’s favourite food – fish and chips!

“The idea came from being sat in an actual fish and chip restaurant and just people watching” explains Becky. “Everyone has memories of fish and chips and of growing up, eating chips on a bench with your first boyfriend. I thought that would be a nice setting for a love story.”

Described as a dinner, dance and a show all rolled into one, the immersive love story asks the audience to put on their dancing shoes and take part in a “unique theatrical experience”. The ticket price even includes a fish and chips supper, served up by the talented four-strong cast.

“I knew quite early that I wanted the audience to be eating fish and chips while they were sat down watching the story” explains Becky.

“I used to be the young people’s leader at the Royal Exchange so a lot of the work I used to do was about trying to engage new audiences. Making it a night out rather than just a show felt really important to this idea. Maybe people who go for a fish supper but don’t necessarily see loads of theatre might be interested in coming to see it? Making it a good night out as well as a show was one of the driving forces behind it.”

The play, which runs from 23 February to 21 April is performing in some unusual spaces across the country, from community centres and libraries to village halls and museums. The idea is to engage with new audiences in their own spaces by encouraging people to who wouldn’t usually visit the theatre to go out and see a different kind of performance, right on their doorstep.

“I think it’s really brilliant that it’s on people’s doorsteps and engaging people in spaces that they recognise” says Becky.

“If it’s in a place where they go to for playgroup or they go to their Zumba class or they come regularly for fish and chips, hopefully the audience will feel like it’s a bit more of home for them. I always wanted it to be not at a theatre and in a fish and chip shop and it was actually Adam [Quayle] and Hannah [Tyrrell-Pinder] who run Box of Tricks who saw the potential for it to be a tour.”

Working in such different spaces brings its own set of challenges which is why award-winning designer Katie Scott (Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Studio Design Prize) was brought on board, working closely with Becky and the Box of Tricks team to deliver a space that can be transported from location to location.

“The practicalities will be quite challenging I think but hopefully if the characters are clear and the relationship are there, that will stay true wherever it’s happening” explains Becky.

“Luckily, we’ve got a really brilliant group of actors who are really up for it. For them, one of the appeals is that to have a different relationship with the audience, so they’re sat amongst the audience, eating they’re fish and chips with them, serving them fish and chips. For the actors, that is quite an exciting way to engage with audience. The layout will change every night but really the play is about the relationships between the characters and they stay the same.”

With an immersive play such as this, the actors are certainly key to its success and for the first time in her career, Becky was actively involved in the casting process.

“It’s really nice as a writer to be sat in the auditions. All the actors were fantastic and it’s nice to hear it [the script] done in different ways. It’s nice when someone does something that surprises you, that isn’t quite how you thought of the character in your head.”

The small but talented cast includes Josh Moran (GUNPOWDER, PETER KAY’S CAR SHARE), Julie Edwards (BRIEF ENCOUNTERS), Jessica Forrest (HOLLYOAKS, CORONATION STREET) and Mark Newsome (EARLY DOORS).

“We were really looking for a group of actors that were quite warm so that hopefully the audience will enjoy being in their company. The characters are quite warm and witty and you just want actors that can capture that and who would be a pleasure to be around for an evening.”

Playwright Becky Prestwich during rehearsals of CHIP SHOP CHIPS. Image Credit: Lucas Smith

Becky Prestwich during rehearsals of CHIP SHOP CHIPS. Image Credit: Lucas Smith

CHIP SHOP CHIPS is produced by local theatre company Box of Tricks, the company who produced Becky’s first full length play, STREETLIGHTS AND SHADOWS at the White Bear Theatre in 2007. Joint Artistic Director and co-founder Adam Quayle (PLASTIC FIGURINES) is to direct the production and has been actively involved in the development of the play.

“What was really nice about this project is that I’ve worked with Box of Tricks, the company that produced it, quite a lot. It felt like the sort of play that they might be interested in so I approached Adam with just a really loose idea of doing a love story in a chip shop and we worked together quite closely.”

Adam and the Box of Tricks team were so impressed by the play that they chose it to open their 10th anniversary year, putting extra pressure on the playwright to make it extra special.

“There feels a bit of pressure because Box of Tricks have done some fantastic productions. They’re last couple of productions NARVIK and PLASTIC FIGURINES were really, really good and did really well and this [CHIP SHOP CHIPS] is quite different in some ways.”

“The pressure in a way comes from it being quite unusual in that it’s set in a chip shop. It’s a bit of an experiment really into how much the audience buy into joining in so that is a bit nerve racking. That feels a bit more pressure because we’re doing something a bit more unknown.”

Nerves aside, Becky is honoured to be working with the Box of Tricks team again, particularly Joint Artistic Director and co-founder Adam Quayle who is directing the CHIP SHOP CHIPS.

“It’s nice because Adam directed the first play that I wrote in 2007 when Box of Tricks were a very new company” comments Becky.

“It’s interesting because there’s one scene in the play in 2007 were a 17 year old girl and boy share a bag of chips and almost kiss so it’s brilliant that that’s still there. It’s really nice to doing something together nearly 10 years later and seeing how far they’ve come as a company and how I’ve grown with them.”

Becky has certainly grown over the past 10 years of being a writer. In 2011, Becky spent a year on attachment to the BBC through the Writersroom 10 Scheme followed by their 2013 Playwrights’ Scheme. She recently took part in UPRISING, a writer’s attachment scheme with Monkeywood Theatre Company and was one of the writers on SANCTUARY FROM THE TRENCHES, an immersive theatre experience at Dunham Massey (National Trust). Becky is currently writing on DOCTORS (BBC1) having successfully completed a shadow scheme at the end of 2014.

“I’m writing a new episode of DOCTORS at the moment which is always nice because you get to carry your own story within the show. But I do love doing theatre. Theatre is kind of my first love of writing” says Becky.

“I feel in a very lucky position to be able to choose what best suits the story. The new theatre play I’m working on is about mental health. It’s another love story about a young girl who is recovering from anorexia and a lad who also suffers with mental health problems. It’s a love story between them and that kind of feels like it should definitely be theatre because in theatre, you can get inside their heads in a different way. They talk to the audience and both tell different versions of the same story. You don’t quite know who to believe or not and that feels to me, uniquely theatrical. If I tried to tell that story on TV, it would lose something”.

Becky, from Withington in South Manchester, is certainly showing no signs of slowing down.

“It’s quite early days in terms of my career even though I’ve written on and off for the past 10 years. It’s only in the past year or so that I’ve said “I am a writer” and I think it is quite an exciting time, thinking about what stories I want to tell and how I want to tell them.”

CHIP SHOP CHIPS opens at Dukes Theatre, Lancaster on 23 February before heading out on tour until 21 April 2018. Visit Box of Tricks for the full tour list and to book tickets.