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Hot Lane – Claybody Theatre

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It is rare to be witness to a brand new play given it’s first outing, rarer still one that so authentically channels the history of your own local area. Last year “Dirty Laundry” did just that in the very heart of Stoke-on-Trent, site-specific, in one such factory that this play could have been written around – and Claybody Theatre are back for more.

This play is not so much a follow-up, but has returning characters and strong references that you will appreciate if you’re lucky enough to see both.

Written by Deborah McAndrew, HOT LANE brings back to life an era that was a way of life for a considerable period of time following World War 2, with it’s own intriguing tale of love, scandal and mystery. Stoke’s people were largely poor, but proud – and the pottery industry formed the backbone of the era. Meanwhile the local dynasty who own the factories are so near yet so far from that reality.

On a thrust stage, with the audience almost fully surrounding the actors, the play begins in a dance hall (with the help of a community company) – setting the scene for the upcoming fall out.

Nora (played perfectly by Madeline Gray) is almost full term with her pregnancy, upset that her husband Brian (played by local actor Matthew Jones) was seen at the dance – but tongues are wagging far more when a factory boss Richard Warham (Philip Wright) is seen with a lady who hasn’t been seen in the area for nearly 15 years. Who is she? Why did she leave and why has she returned?

That lady – Edith – is strongly played by Emily Pithon. She is the centre of the tale, but there’s Dr James Copper (played by Andy Cryer) and Agnes Warham (played by Alison Darling) who are there to more than competently add some significant twists with their own revelations.

Francis Berry is again played by Angela Bain. She is the glue to this play just as her character is the glue to the community. She, along with an array of strong performances, is a pleasure to watch.

The show is well directed by Conrad Nelson. It’s pacy – and the revelations make for some great drama.

Personally, what I like the most is the absolute authenticity of the piece. The accents are excellent, the way words are spoken and the interpretation of the times fills you with a local warmth and pride that you wouldn’t usually get from the theatre.

Priced at just £12 – to witness a piece in a place like this is a treat that doesn’t come about very often. Long may Claybody Theatre continue to be able to showcase their work in their hometown of Stoke.

Stoke-on-Trent Council and Arts Council England and the venue should be applauded for their contribution to the local area.

Hot Lane plays until Saturday 24th November with a Matinee on the Saturday only. Buy your tickets at claybodytheatre.com

Photography is by Andrew Billington.