In July 2022 I was asked to write a short play for Prescot-based Imaginarium Theatre, a community-based performing arts company (and associate company of the Shakespeare North Playhouse) with whom I’ve worked on and off since 2016, playing such roles as Caliban in The Tempest, Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet and the Spirit of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol. This project was commissioned by One Knowsley for the Knowsley Feel Good Festival and Knowsley Flower Show, held on 6 and 7 August 2022.
The brief was to create a fun and fast-paced family show about the history of Court Hey Park, where the performances were to take place. With the help of the Friends of Court Hey Park and Knowsley Council, I delved into the archives and picked out a handful of historical episodes that would give an entertaining and informative glimpse into the park’s past.
The writing process was not without its challenges – not least my coming down with Covid a few days in – but the resulting performance was tremendously fun and brilliantly received. It focused on the life of Robertson Gladstone, the 19th-century merchant and politician (and brother of Liberal PM William Ewart Gladstone) who built Court Hey Hall, a mansion that stood on the present site from 1836 to 1955. Part-Carry On, part-Horrible Histories, The Gladstones of Court Hey may have been an absurdly comical farce, but it was very much rooted in the facts, touching on politics, religion, the social realities of Victorian life and the story of the Gladstone family, warts and all. The framing scenes, involving a pair of present-day police officers and an over-enthusiastic archaeologist, highlighted the family’s legacy, and how the Gladstones’ love of the outdoors and support for education lives on in what takes place in Court Hey Park today.
The play was written for a cast of three, who handled a colourful array of props and underwent multiple costume changes, switching breathlessly between approximately 15 different roles. Their improvisational skills and knack for audience interaction brought the script alive, engaging crowds ranging in age from toddler to pensioner.
The project was funded through a Knowsley Heritage Grant, via One Knowsley and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Pictured, top: Director Gaynor La Rocca, actors Rachael Reason, Francesco La Rocca and Kieran McCarthy-Hoare, and yours truly, the writer. Photos: Kristian Lawrence