Joe O’Byrne is one of Manchester’s hardest working writers/actors. He recently received rave reviews for his play, The Bench which follows the fictional community of Paradise Heights. A regular at the 24/7 Theatre Festival and recently Re:Play at the Library, this Bolton born man of many talents is bringing his recognisable characters back in his play Rank which plays at The Lowry in June.

WOS Northwest caught up with Joe to chat about his plays, Salford and his fictional community.

Tell us a bit about Rank
There are a few permutations to the title.The play is set in a taxi rank and the boss, Lisa, is under enormous pressure for giving a statement to the police over the killing of a teenager in a crossfire between two gangs on the estate. Gangs that are fighting for supremacy, to be the top rank gang on the estate. In addition she is estranged from her brother (Corny – seen in The Bench) who used to be one of the top 10 boxing rank at his weight in the Country until a tragic fall from grace.Plus as we all know the term is an expression of distaste about a situation…and there are some seriously rank situations that arise during the play…

What do you like about performing/working in Salford?
It’s as vibrant and current as ever. The great performance venues and the creative friends I’ve made in the area; as most of my work is a collaborative process I could never have done that without their incredible efforts, that’s everyone from the venues to the dedicated actors and crew and most importantly the audiences that support so much great work around Salford – and Manchester!

Is there anything in the play for non-coverts to the Paradise Heights saga?
Yes, as always you don’t have to have seen any of the other stories in the series to enjoy the play, but those who have seen the other works will see links. This is another multi media piece (like I’m Frank Morgan) but it’s how we’re using that media, this could be a first! This an attempt at trying to create a graphic novel on stage, Graphic Theatre or Theatre Graphic? It’s a risk but I’m always up for a risk.  

There are serious issues in Rank, topical and current, but this one is a touch different from the others.It’s set on Halloween and that’s for a reason, there are a few strange things happening tonight around the Rank, I’m playing with perceptions here – the rational vs the irrational…if we pull it off I’m hoping that the audiences will be boasting that they were there the first time this was done.

What are your future plans?
Well I’m currently trying to get The Bench into some further venues (The Octagon, The Unity, The Dukes in Lancaster) and that’s hard. I’m also looking for further venues for Rank, I’m also looking to put I’m Frank Morgan on at a couple of more venues over the summer and I’m writing the next play in the series – Torch – which will feature the return of the favourite villain for fans of the series…Frank Morgan.

Joe O'Byrne was talking to Glenn Meads

Rank runs from 12th - 13th June at The Lowry. To book, please click here.