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Brief Encounter with... Playwright Sarah McDonald Hughes

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A Wondrous Place is a brand new production by Northern Spirit in association with Sheffield Theatres, Northern Stage, the Unity Theatre, New Writing North and the Royal Exchange Theatre. Four northern writers (Luke Barnes, Alison Carr, Matt Hartley and Sarah McDonald Hughes) were challenged to write a play about their respective cities (Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester), which captures it's essence, contradicts the stereotypes and gets to the bottom of what is so wondrous about these places.

Before it finishes its tour of the north at The Royal Exchange on Saturday 22 June, we spent five minutes with acclaimed writer with a northern soul, Sarah McDonald Hughes. Sarah has previously written for BBC Radio, Paines Plough, Action Transport Theatre and Monkeywood Theatre and her plays Last Orders and Once in a House on Fire were both nominated for Best New Play in the 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards.

Scene from A Wondrous Place

What makes the north such a wondrous place?

What doesn't? The people, the music, the beautiful cities and the amazing countryside. But more than that, the resilience and industry, the history of cooperation and mutualism, the tangible spirit of places like Manchester and Liverpool that have fought back time and again. The accents, definitely. The tea. The rain. The clubs. The canals. The docks. The plays!

Your work is always very rooted in place, and more often than not, the north. Why do you think the north is so rich in stories?

I don't know, it's just where I'm from…I think where you're from informs everything you are, everything you do, and that's Manchester for me. I'm inspired by people I know and that's great Northern men and women. I think Northern writers get unfair criticism for misery, when actually, many Northern plays and tv programmes that are criticised for being grim – like The Royle Family, A Taste of Honey and The Street – are actually full of life and love and about people loving each other and surviving. It's the South that's got us pegged all wrong, if you ask me.

What makes you proud to be a northerner?

Oh, all of the above. I don't know who I'd be if I wasn't from Manchester.

Which three characters do you feel embody the spirit of being northern?

Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street, Jo in A Taste of Honey, and Fiona Gallagher in Shameless

How does A Wondrous Place get to the heart of being northern?

Northern Spirit set out with a brilliant ambition, which was about new narratives and truthful stories about the North and northerners. Us writers were invited to write plays that avoided the usual northern clichés, that reimagined the North – which was quite a challenge! The four plays are so different, but share a lot in terms of spirit and values and heart… I think that's it, really. The project has tried hard to dig beneath the stereotypes and the well known stories about the North.

What can the audience of A Wondrous Place at The Royal Exchange Theatre expect?

Oh, don't ask me! I hope they'll get it, I hope they'll identify with the cities they know and want to go to those they don't. It's a great production, with 4 smashing actors and great sound, music and animation. I hope that people are surprised by it, in some way.


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