The Playground Theatre today announces further casting for Gregory Evans’ Shirleymander, which receives its UK premiere at the end of May. Joining Jessica Martin, who plays the former leader of Westminster Council, will be Jack Klaff , Omar Baroud and Amanda Waggott with other cast yet to be announced. Anthony Biggs’s production will run from May 23 to June 16.
On 14th June 2017 a massive fire swept through the twenty-four-story Grenfell Tower block of public housing in West London, killing seventy-one people. What has followed since these tragic events has highlighted the huge social housing crisis across London and the rest of the UK. To coincide with the first anniversary of the fire The Playground Theatre, situated barely five minutes walk from the burnt-out building, is to stage the dramatisation of another social housing scandal that rocked the country.
The UK stage premiere of Gregory Evans’ Shirleymander charts the events behind the Shirley Porter Westminster Council ‘homes for votes’ scandal of the 1980s.
London 1986 – London is in the midst of a housing crisis. Homes stand empty while homelessness soars. Close-knit communities are destroyed for profit. Tory councils are accused of ‘social cleansing’ as families are evicted and forced to move far away or into unsafe flats, while affordable homes are sold as investment properties.
First presented as a radio play in 2009 and inspired by BBC journalist Andrew Hosken’s book Nothing Like A Dame, Gregory Evans’ comedy drama, tells the story of the flagship London council, which, thirty years ago, was at the centre of a major scandal. Porter’s controlling, bullying, autocratic style led Westminster Council into a mire of paranoia, fear and skullduggery as she pursued, secret, illegal policies that destroyed communities, reputations and lives.
Exploring the perennial themes of greed, ambition and the normalisation of corruption, Shirleymander is a shocking, funny and often times moving reminder of how it is the weakest who bear the brunt when institutional wrong-doing takes control.
Jessica Martin made her name as a comic impressionist on television as one of LWT’s Copycats team and voice artist on Spitting Image. Her role as Sally Smith in the hit musical Me and My Girl at the Adelphi Theatre established her as a West End leading lady and she has performed in many successful productions since, including Mack and Mabel, Sunset Boulevard, Spamalot, and most recently Elf the Musical which was also broadcast on Channel 5 last Christmas. Jessica is also a critically acclaimed graphic novelist and is working on her graphic memoir, Life Drawing. A Life Under Lights to be published by Unbound 2019.
Director Anthony Biggs says:
“The Rise and fall of Shirley Porter is an extraordinary story – you really can’t make this stuff up. I read Shirleymander last year shortly after the Grenfell Tower tragedy and I was determined that my first play as Artistic Director at the Playground Theatre had to focus on social injustice and the stark inequalities we witness around us in London. Shirley Porter is not responsible for the fire at Grenfell, but her lack of care for those less fortunate chimes loudly today.”
The Playground Theatre’s mission is to work with both established and emerging artists in the UK and internationally. The ethos is one of cross-fertilization between different forms and different cultures with the aim of creating work that is bold and imaginative, while fully engaging the rich diversity of the community of which it is a part.
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