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Chris Neville-Smith

Things I've done for the stage

Our House

Text: Our House, written by Chris Neville-Smith; image: old photograph of a terraced house.Written by John Godber

Directed by Chris Neville-Smith

"We bought this when they were selling them cheap! Six thousand! It was worth twelve, but we got it half price ... Mr's Thatcher's idea. I mean, Ted was Labour through and through but he wanted his own house ... It all changed after the strike, didn't it?"

For forty-five years, May lived a pleasant life with her husband Ted in the same colliery house. Now a widow moving to a Spanish retirement villa, she spends her watching as furniture and memories are carried to the removal van. She reminisces about the last five decades: becoming a family, a caring community, the troubles of her wayward son, the struggles of the miners. But what has really move from her beloved home?

This play was premiered in 2001 at Hull Truck Theatre and is as relevant today is it was was back then. It's not only a story of one colliery family, but also the tale of the mining town they lived in. For whilst the past from long ago was a happy working-class existence, the recent past is another story. This is a bitter-sweet tale about the disintegration of mining communities after the pits closed.

Where it was

Our House showed at the City Theatre on November Sunday 16th to Saturday 22nd as part of Durham Dramatic Society's main season in 2014.

Cast and crew

The cast of Our House was:

May, an elderly widow Lesley Anderson
Ted, May's husband Colin Clark
Jack, their son Michael Luke
Sylvia, the old neighbour Kayleigh Knox
Sharon, Jack's wife
Steve, the removal man Henry Cockburn
Les, a current neighbour
Sonja, another current neighbour Jayne Stopford Taylor
Candace, Jack's publisher's assistant
Lance, May's replacement Zam Tee

The crew was:

Director Chris Neville-Smith
Production Assistant Tess Hagger
Prompt Jennifer Gill
Props Tess Hagger, Theresa Mulkerin and Jessica Beard
Set construction Pete Hagger John Maddison, Jessica Beard and Lesley Anderson
Wardrobe Marion Clapham and Lesley Anderson
Programme Theresa Mulkerin
Poster Chris Neville-Smith (using Creative Commons photos from Mike Kirby and Chris Allen)
Lighting and Sound Gordon Lawrie, John Maddison (setup), Dale Scott, Charlotte Bond, Kathryn Gander (operation)


Here's a selection of production pictures to enjoy. All production photos taken at the dress rehearsal on Friday 14th November. Click on any photo for a larger image using my exciting new photo gallery tool.

Ted (Colin Clark) shows a young Sylvia (Kayliegh Knox) the vomit her husband left on his slipper Colin sits with his bereaved wife May (Lesley Anderson) to comfort her May looks in horror at her son Jack (Michael Luke) and his garish fashion sense Michael Luke as Jack, complete with cricket bat
Jack sits down and cringes as Ted explains the finer details of a visit the clap clinic Ted, May and Jack have a heated argument over who answers the new phone Henry Cockburn as Steve, struggling with some suitcases Hack has a tense stand-off with the neighbour, Les
Ted and May back from their only holiday Colin Clark as Ted, still in his holiday gear Lesley Anderson as May Ted has his first angina attack
Steve offers May a chip Jack's wife Sharon (Kayleigh Knox) is welcomed into the family by Ted and May Ted and May relax to Bing Crosby Jayne Stopford-Taylor as Candace
Jack fancies his chances on Candace: 'Gor, the same old chairs ... I had my first sexual encounter in this room' Kayleigh Knox as an elderly chain-smoking Sylvia Les grabs Sonja next door: 'Who are you trying to impress?' Steve takes out yet another box
Jayne Stopford Taylor as Sonja, in her negligee It's just not your day, is it Sonja? Now it's Jack's turn to strangle her. Jack comforts May during her final few monents in her beloved house And Sharon's there for Jack, who needs comforting too.
New neighbour Lance (Zam Tee) headbanging to The Ace of Spaces And now Lance brings out the first of his snakes Full cast (left to right): Jayne Stopford-Taylor (Sonja/Candace), Henry Cockburn (Steve/Les), Kayliegh Knox (Sylvia/Sharon), Michael Luke (Jack), Lesley Anderson (May), Colin Clark (Ted), Zam Tee (Lance) Full cast (back row, left to right): Jayne Stopford-Taylor (Sonja/Candace), Henry Cockburn (Steve/Les), Kayliegh Knox (Sylvia/Sharon), Michael Luke (Jack), Lesley Anderson (May), Colin Clark (Ted), Zam Tee (Lance). Crew (front row, left to right): Theresa Mulkerin (props), Charlotte Bond (lighting), Chris Neville-Smith (director), Dale Scott (Sound), Jennifer Gill (prompt)

And here's some older rehearsal photos taken during the rehearsal on the 3rd November.

Removal man Steve (Henry Cockburn) stops and sits on a trunk to chat with May (Lesley Anderson). May (Lesley Anderson) has a spat with her son Jack (Michael Luke). Ted (Colin Clark) has his first angina attack, whilst Jack (Michael Luke) stands over him. Ted (Colin Clark) does the ironing.
Jack sits with Candace, his publisher's assistant (Jayne Stopford-Taylor), and fancies his chances with her. Les (Henry Cockburn) and Sonja (Jayne Stopford-Taylor) have a row next door, through a cutaway. Sharon (Kayleigh Knox) offers May (Lesley Anderson) a butterfly bun). Oh, it's kicking off again next door. Now Jack (Michael Luke) strangling Sonja (Jayne Stopford-Taylor) through the cutaway again.
Ted (Colin Clark) gives May (Lesley Anderson) her pills. Sharon (Kayleigh Knox) comforts her husband Jack (Michael Luke).

Production photos © Wendy Smith, rehearsal photos © Janiece Spence. For high-resolution images suitable for printing, please contact the respective owner. Please note that some of these pictures are cropped section of larger photos, and a higher-resolution version may not always be available.

How it went

In all honesty, Our House was the one play from my shortlist I didn't expect to be picked. With Durham Dramatic Society having a record of doing only "nice" Godber plays like Weekend Breaks, it was quite unprecedented to have a play where a large part of it was spent with the neighbours from hell effing and blinding.

I knew this wouldn't appeal to large sections of our regular audience, so I had to hope that this could draw in a different County Durham crowd who could identify with the themes of colliery closures. And it looks like this gamble may have paid off. I didn't manage to reproduce the stupidly high ticket sales of Improbable Fiction, but it looks like a large number of those people were indeed people who'd lived through similar circumstances themselves, or knew others who had.

In particular, one thing that seemed to go down unexpectedly well was a play set locally that people identified with. Our House was written by Godber to be set in the Yorkshire colliery town, and the only reason I transplanted it to the Durham coalfield was so that my cast could use their own voices and save the hassle of learning Yorkshire accents. But this is a story that could just as easily have been set in County Durham, and this decision seems to have gone down very well.

Oh, and apparently Pat Barker came to see it. This is because someone from St. Mary's Senior Common Room came to see the last play, Rope, liked it, and decided to organise trip out for everyone next time, and Pat Barker happened to be an honorary member, happened to be in Durham at the time, so this is the most famous person I have produced a- ... What do you mean "Who's Pat Barker?" Not another one. Look, she's only the author of the Regeneration Trilogy, you know, The Ghost Road, the one that won the Booker Prize? ... No? Honestly, some people. Right then, time for Wikipedia.

On the whole I can be quite pleased with this, so the only dampener is that I'm not sure it will be possible to do something like this again. Since this was chosen, the selection process has suddenly developed fixation with "audience appeal", whatever that means. I won't give you a blow-by-blow account here (anyone who really wants to know can contact me ask), but the bottom line is that I would not have submitted this play if I was trying to meet a confusing and arbitrary definition of audience appeal. So the future of plays like this and my involvement in them is uncertain. We'll see.


The old casting information is on an archive page if anyone wants that. (Anyone who wants to use the character descriptions for their own casting calls is welcome to do so.)

Last updated 17th January 2015.