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Why Once in a House on Fire

12th April 2011 by Martin Gibbons

Monkeywood’s Artistic Directors Francesca Waite, Martin Gibbons and Sarah McDonald Hughes give an insight into the background of the play.

One of our key aims as a company is to make theatre with a northern voice, rooted in the community where we live and work. We were in the midst of rehearsals for another project, Maine Road, when mention of the book Once in a House on Fire kept cropping up. We were struck by how vivid, heartbreakingly truthful and deeply affecting this Manchester-based story is and how close it is to many people’s hearts – we became excited at its theatrical potential.

Andrea grew up in Moss Side, where Martin and Sarah now live (on the same street!), and went to the same sixth form college as Sarah and Francesca. Her story immediately felt like one which had real meaning for us and, more importantly, for our community and audience. Hers is a recognisable family – a unit of strong women who support each other in the face of poverty, discrimination, violence and constant disruption. What really stands out in the writing is the sheer strength of these women, their loyalty and love for each other, their bravery and their ability to carry on against the odds. This is an extraordinary story of ordinary people.      

We began to talk about how we might make a piece of theatre based on the story. We felt strongly that as it is rooted in the community where Andrea grew up, we should make our work within that community and specifically involve young people with whom Andrea’s story would resonate. In August 2010, the creative team worked intensively to build a structure for the storyline. Sarah then produced a draft which we took to Xaverian Sixth Form College and Chorlton High School (both attended by Andrea and featuring in the book), running workshops with the students and inviting their creative responses. This informed another draft which we performed for a small audience in October 2010, again inviting their thoughts.

Since then, Sarah has used these responses to develop the play further and we hope this process has helped us create a truthful, engaging and accessible piece of theatre that resonates with you, our audience.

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20 Jan 2022

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