I’ve been invited by The Lowry to put some words down about our up-coming show – the now multi-award winning – “STUFF”. After being voted as the audience favourite show at last year’s 24:7 Theatre Festival in Manchester, we’re delighted to be bringing the show back with an updated cast and new director. But what is STUFF all about?
STUFF is the story of a normally happy couple going through a challenging decision. Toby & Jess Matthews are unable to have kids, or rather, Toby is unable to. Being ex-military and very much a “man’s man” this revelation has hit Toby hard. STUFF takes place one night in the Lockwood’s home as they are visited by Jess’ old school friend – the loud, out-spoken, hyperactive, Xav.
Xav has problems of his own – he’s been diagnosed as being terminally ill. Jess & Toby think that he’s coming around for a ‘last goodbye’ but he is actually coming with an offer. Knowing the Lockwood’s problems, Xav offers to freeze his own…”stuff”… and leave them it as a gift so that they can have children. Do they accept? Well, that’s what you need to buy a ticket to find out!
At its core, it’s the story of three people who love and want the best for each other but who want different things for themselves. It’s a unique and unusual situation that Toby, Jess & Xav find themselves in, but still (hopefully) relatable. Through the development of the show, I made the decision to have the story play out in real time in The Lockwood’s front room to give the audience a greater feeling of the pressure that the ‘offer’ puts everyone under.
The show has been in development for almost 2 years so I’ve had Jess, Toby and Xav in my head for a while… with Xav in particular, this isn’t always a healthy thing! That said, they are in a way responsible for my production company – My Beating Heart – being set up in the first place. Although not from the region originally, I am a Manchester based writer (I’ve lived in Withington for many years now) and I entered the thriving theatre scene in this city with a story, but no idea how to get it told. I approached a couple of fringe companies in Manchester, but feeling things weren’t moving at a quick enough pace for me, I set up on my own.
As a writer / producer, STUFF was my first show written, but actually my third show produced. I wanted to wait for the ‘right’ time to bring STUFF to the stage, so wrote / produced two other shows – “Troll (Keyboard Warrior)” and “Braving Faces” – which hit the stage for the first time in Sept ’13 and Jan ’14 respectively.
The best bits of the show – or indeed, any MBH show – come from the cast/director. Despite being a new writer still, I’m far more comfortable taking a back seat during the rehearsal period of the production. Theatre should be a collaborative effort and my role as a producer is more around the marketing and promotion of the show. It allows me to then enjoy the show as an audience member, seeing little quirks or changes to the script which have developed naturally in the rehearsal room.
And I couldn’t have hoped for a better cast. Staying on board from the original run is Karl Greenwood as Xav (who won the UK Studio Theatre Award for his performance previously) and Eve Burley as Jess, who has just returned from Broadway in Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” – which was originally at The Lowry also (I know, I was in the audience watching it!)
Joining the team is Manchester based actor Peter Ash who many will recognise from his performance in the world tour of “War Horse” – which also was at The Lowry – and also from his TV work, in particular as Darius Fry in ITV’s “Footballer’s Wives”.
Having a new Toby adds something as during the play, Toby….well, you’ll see on July 4th!
Written by Mick Cooper
Writer of STUFF and Producer of My Beating Heart Theatre Company