Thanks to funding from Newcastle’s Live Theatre bursary scheme and Arts Council England, The Twenty Seven Club will be performed from 23rd–26th March as part of Live Theatre’s Elevator Festival – an annual event designed to showcase promising new playwrights. Find out more and get your tickets at live.org.uk. A filmed version will also be made available following the festival.
The Twenty Seven Club Heads to The Stage
A Newcastle-based author’s novel is being transformed into a theatre production by her husband
Lucy Nichol, a published author and copywriter, is passionate about challenging mental health stigma. She’s worked with mental health charities including Mind and Newcastle United Foundation’s Be A Game Changer campaign, and TV programmes such as Coronation Street where she advised on the portrayal of mental health and addiction. Her novel, The Twenty Seven Club, was released last year, and quickly became a bestseller in the Amazon punk charts.
This is her first novel and it tells the story of 26-year old Emma, a working-class rock music fan from Hull who, in 1994, learns of the death of Kurt Cobain (aged 27). The news triggers her anxiety and as she tries to control her panic attacks, she discovers that there’s something much bigger in her past that needs to be addressed – and there might be more to life and death than just a number. Through laughter and emotional reflections on her family and friends, you follow Emma (and her dog) while discovering the impact that the media can have on our mental health – throwing in a ton of nostalgia and 90s punk, rock and pop. It’s a truly eyeopening story of alcoholism, anxiety and the pressures of life.
‘I’d written non-fiction and was really passionate about writing about mental health,’ Lucy says. ‘I realised that fiction was something I could explore but I’d never had the confidence to do it. I wanted to create something that should comment on issues surrounding mental health and challenge the stigma. To truly enjoy the writing process, I set it in the 90s which is a music scene that I love so much.’
The Twenty Seven Club was a phrase coined by the media following the death of Kurt Cobain when he was 27. It was linked with other musicians who died at the same age, including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and later Amy Winehouse, who passed away in 2011. That’s something Lucy has always found interesting. ‘Nearly all of those deaths came back to mental health and I thought that would be a really interesting thing to explore, and it fitted in with my work around stigma and how the media report on mental health,’ Lucy adds.
Lucy has been overwhelmed by the response she’s had from readers. ‘It’s been wonderful seeing reviews from people who’ve really got something out of it,’ she reflects. ‘People were sharing that they really understood what Emma was going though, and enjoyed all the references, and really felt like they made friends with the main characters – it was really lovely to get that feedback.’
With an addictive soundtrack alluded to throughout the book, and such an important message to share, Lucy knew her story would be perfect for the stage. And thanks to Newcastle’s Live Theatre, that idea has become reality.
‘Live Theatre had advertised the opening of their bursary scheme and I thought it would be a really good opportunity,’ Lucy continues. ‘But I was a little bit daunted because, although I have written plenty, I’d never written anything for the stage – it’s a very different skill. Thankfully, I just so happen to live with someone who’s done a lot of work in theatre…’
The stage play has been written and directed by actor Chris Connel, Lucy’s husband, who is best known for his role as Oliver Kilbourn in Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters. You might also recognise him from appearances in Emmerdale, George Gently and theatre productions around the country (including many for Live Theatre).
‘I’ve always enjoyed working on plays in their early stages,’ Chris says. ‘I’ve worked with quite a few writers in the very early stages of their stage work, for example Lee Hall and Richard Bean. So when Lucy asked me to write a script, of course I said yes.’ The funding they’ve received means they’ve been able to set their sights quite high while working as a team. ‘I think it’s working out alright. We’re still married!’ Chris laughs.
‘With an addictive soundtrack alluded to throughout the book, and such an important message to share, Lucy knew her story would be perfect for the stage’
Chris has a strong connection with Live Theatre. This year marks 30 years since his first ever paid gig as an actor – a script reading that took place at Live in 1992. The couple even held their wedding reception at the venue. ‘Live Theatre itself, although it sounds like a cliché, is in my blood,’ he adds. ‘Huge swathes of my life are in there. Every time I go inside, the smell, the feel – it’s just my home. My whole adult life has some attachment to Live Theatre. It’s a community of makers all about creating.’
Chris describes this stage show as a ‘concentrated blast’ of Lucy’s book. ‘The emotional journey comes in a much shorter space of time,’ he explains. ‘While the book may feel like a gentler journey, when you condense it down like that it’s quite high impact; it’s really fast paced.’ Lucy is equally excited about the production. ‘There’ll be lots of great music (great because I’m choosing that),’ she jokes. ’But lots of nostalgia and laughs too. It’s very much about music fandom in the 90s. It should be a great night out as well as carrying what I think is an important message about mental health, friendship and being able to talk to each other.’
Tips for budding writers/actors.
Lucy (for budding writers): ‘If you’re writing, then you are a writer. It took me ages to say to people, I am a writer. I think it’s really important that if you’ve got an idea, to just get it out there. Just have a go, you don’t know until you try.
Chris (for budding actors): ‘Remember that it is a job. It’s a given that you’re going to be talented, but what is important is if you can work hard and with other people, like in any other job.’
Favourite writer or story maker from the North East.
Chris ‘Lee Hall. I’ve always loved his work. I worked on his first ever Live Theatre production as a writer in residence when he was in the early stages of his career which was Cooking With Elvis, before it headed off to Edinburgh Festival. He’s such a joy to work with. If you’ve got something that he thinks is funnier than what he’s written, he has no hesitation in putting it in. He’s such an open guy and a lovely man.’
Lucy ‘I absolutely love Lee Hall too! Another one to mention, which is an organisation bringing stories to the stage, is Open Clasp Theatre. I absolutely love the way they work with groups of women who aren’t necessarily given the opportunity to have a voice. Everyone there is amazing in what they do.’
Favourite thing about the North?
Chris ‘The coastline, the beautiful countryside and the fact not everybody knows about it across the country. I love where I live.’
Lucy ‘I love Hull, where I’m from and I love going back, but moving here, being accepted, making friends so easily… North East people are such a friendly bunch of people.’
Your favourite book, or one you’re reading at the moment.
Lucy ‘I’m currently reading The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins which is amazing. It’s historical fiction. One I read not long ago was Psychomachia by Kirsty Allison – it was so different; I’d never read anything like it. That was the edgiest book I’ve ever read.’
Chris ‘My opinion might not be that popular. I don’t read a lot of fiction! When I was growing up as a young man, I mostly readnon-fiction. I remember a particular book called The Informer by Sean O’Callaghan. It was a real life account of his experience as an IRA informer. I remember that really got me into that genre of books. Something else I loved when I was younger was Terry Pratchett’s books. Anything by him is great.’
The best thing you’ve seen on stage.
Lucy ‘Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers at Alphabetti Theatre. We’ve been talking about this one a lot recently because we loved it so much (we were even lucky enough to work with Steve Byron [a Newcastle-based actor and writer]). It’s the most bizarre title for a play but it was a really fascinating format of theatre. Something I’d never seen before. I think Steve Byron and Gary Kitching [also a Newcastle-based actor and writer] are ones to watch.’
Chris ‘I’m going to go back to a play that I saw when I was a student: Your Home In The West. I really looked up to the actors in it at the time. It was on at Live Theatre and had a huge impact on me. In it was Trevor Fox and Charlie Hardwick. Of all the theatre I’d seen before (mainly pantos and classics) this was totally different. I embarked on the journey to be an actor and that play just blew me away – those people sounded like me, looked like me and truly inspired me. Trevor Fox’s presence on that stage really stayed with me.’