If you’re going to set a play in a chippy then it seems an obvious choice of location to perform it. Health and safety may demand that the deep fat fryers are off for the duration but site specific drama has a lot going for it (including, in the price of a ticket, a fish supper at the end of the night!)
Chip Shop Chips is set at the grand reopening of Booth and Son’s Fish & Chip Shop. Eric (Russell Richardson) has returned home, over 40 years after he left, and it’s time for a fresh start. But old flame Christine (Julie Edwards) has other ideas.
Transported back to a time of chippy teas and Northern Soul, there’s unfinished business for these old lovers. Watching teenage love stumble as hapless Lee (Ben Ryan-Davies) makes a pass at the beautiful Jasmine (Jessica Forrest), is it all just history repeating?
Here playwright Becky Prestwich talks to Stage Review about her new romcom that’s being produced by Manchester-based theatre company, Box of Tricks, which is set in, and coming to, a chip shop near you.
What is the play about?
After his father’s death, Eric, a 60 something drifter, has come home to re-open the family Chip Shop. He wants to re-vamp the place and turn it into the kind of trendy chippy that serves Halloumi as the veggie option.
On the restaurant’s opening night, Eric’s childhood sweetheart, Christine, turns up. They haven’t seen each other in over 40 years. Christine’s a Grandma – and a widow now.
Neither she nor Eric has lived the life they imagined they would, and she’s wondering if there’s still time for one last big romance. Alongside Christine and Eric, we see Lee and Jasmine – two 18-year-olds who may or may not be about to kiss for the first time. So, really it’s a play about memory and possibility and first love and nostalgia.
Why Fish and Chips?
I think fish and chips are brilliant. They manage to be both totally ordinary and a treat at the same time – I guess because they’re cheap but bad for you. They’re also strangely wholesome – I feel much less guilty feeding my kids fish and chips than I would giving them a McDonalds.
For most British people, fish and chips are rich in memories – sharing a bag of chips with your first boyfriend because you can’t afford to actually eat out or windswept, rainy holidays in the Lake District or the first night in a new house before you’ve unpacked the pots and pans.
Fish and chips are about comfort and family. They conjure a kind of instant nostalgia – and that kind of nostalgia seems to be everywhere at the moment from retro beards to vintage everything. I thought a Chippy might be an interesting world through which to explore ideas about tradition and family, nostalgia and aspiration and how the world has changed (and how its stayed the same).
What inspired you to write this play?
The idea first came to me when I was pregnant. For the first few months of the pregnancy, I could only stomach chips and the occasional cheese sandwich. So, I was spending a lot of time in chip shops.
And one night – before a Box of Tricks production actually – my husband and I ate at the Olympus Fish and Chip Shop opposite Bolton Octagon. I was immediately struck by what a fantastic place for people watching it was. It was a place where people come together. I liked the idea of the story playing out while the audience ate. And straight away, I knew it would be a story about family and falling in love.
How does the play fit in with your previous work?
I write about food a lot. I come from the kind of family where if someone is feeling low, you offer them a sandwich. So, this play definitely connects with that. I’m also really interested in every day drama, stories that seem small but which are somehow exploring what it means to be alive and part of society.
Also, I used to work in the participation team of a theatre and I think this play connects to that – I wanted to write something that anyone could come and see and enjoy, including people who might never normally dream of stepping inside a theatre.
It was important to me that the play felt truthful and was about lots of memories of fish and chips, not just my own, so we worked with community groups and youth theatres from both the Bolton Octagon and the Royal Exchange as part of the development of the play.
What do you hope audiences will get from watching the play?
Well, Eric fancies himself as a bit of a showman and he is determined that everyone is going to have a good night. So, there’s a quiz, a bit of Northern Soul and some terrible fish puns.
Alongside that, you’ll have these two love stories unfolding, which will hopefully capture something of what it feels like to be young and falling in love for the first time. I hope audiences have a good night out and come away with a full heart. And you get to eat chips.
How did you get into writing?
My Mum’s a writer and for years, that made me very determined not to be one. I saw myself as a creative person and just doing what my Mum did for a living didn’t seem to be a very creative choice.
I worked for a long time as the Young People’s Programme Leader at the Royal Exchange. It was an absolutely brilliant job. It was incredibly rewarding and creative and I learnt a lot about how theatre works from my time there. But I couldn’t resist writing.
I wrote bits for the young people I worked with and in my spare time, I wrote for myself too. I sent my first full length play to Box of Tricks Theatre and loved the experience of seeing something I’d written come to life on stage.
So, I kept writing. I did more theatre projects, including more work with Box of Tricks and I also started engaging with the Writersroom at the BBC which got me into writing for radio and then TV. Eventually, I realised it was time to leave my job and admit that I was a writer whether I liked it or not.
How does it feel to see your work on the stage?
I write a bit for telly and for radio too and it is always a revelation to see what actors can bring to a script. But there is something uniquely brilliant about being in an audience, and seeing and feeling people around you respond to something you’ve created.
It’s magical when the audience laugh in places you hadn’t anticipated or gasp at something you didn’t realise was quite that shocking. It’s also completely and utterly terrifying and with theatre the fear never quite lifts because even if the audience clapped last night, tonight they might hate it.
But that’s the risk you have to take. My favourite bit is afterwards if you overhear the audience talking about what they’d have done in that situation or reminiscing about a similar story from their own lives – that’s what you’re looking for, to create something that connects.
What do you hope Box of Tricks will bring to your play?
I love working with Box of Tricks. They’re a company who care deeply about their audiences – and about finding the right way for an audience to experience each play. When I first talked to them about Chip Shop Chips I didn’t know quite what I wanted the play to be, they immediately saw the potential for a tour to unusual venues, engaging new audiences.
Why should people come and see the play
People should come and see the play for a good night out. Hopefully there are moments which will make you think but ultimately this is a warm-hearted play which will leave you with a full belly and a bit of a smile.
Finally, what is your favourite sauce to go on your chips?
I like chips with salt, vinegar, mushy peas and absolutely nothing else. For me, putting ketchup on proper chip shop chips is sacrilegious.