How Warrington born writer-director Luke Gilfedder set up the Finn Youth Productions theatre group

Playwright, Luke Gilfedder at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Playwright, Luke Gilfedder at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester - Credit: Archant

At the age of 22, writer-director Luke Gilfedder, from Wilmslow, already has a string of impressive dramatic successes to his name. As for this space, writes Howard Bradbury

Playwright, Luke Gilfedder at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Playwright, Luke Gilfedder at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester - Credit: Archant

Luke Gilfedder recalls being only nine or ten when he watched the weird TV drama series Twin Peaks from start to finish.

Still then a pupil at St Peter’s RC Primary School, Woolston, Warrington, Luke may have missed some of the more macabre overtones in David Lynch’s masterpiece. But Twin Peaks became yet more fodder for Luke’s precocious dramatic ambitions.

‘For my eighth or ninth birthday, my dad bought me a £350 camcorder.’ says Luke, who grew up in Padgate. ‘When I was nine or ten, I used to drag my friends down to Latchford Locks and I would write and script short films and make all my friends from school act in them, whether they wanted to or not.

‘I’d written a 200-page novel by the time I was about ten - a James Bond-type thing. I’d always been a big reader. I can’t remember spending too much time playing on video games and that kind of thing.’

Playwright, Luke Gilfedder at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Playwright, Luke Gilfedder at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester - Credit: Archant

There were no dramatic leanings in the family - his father working in fire safety, his mother as a pancreatic scientist at Manchester Royal Infirmary - but Luke continued writing ideas for films as he moved on to Manchester Grammar School.

Luke enjoyed his time at MGS: ‘It’s not just the education side of it, it makes you such a well-rounded person’.

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But faced with continuing his education - he had been offered a place to study English Literature at University College London - he made the brave and unusual decision to set up a theatre group, Finn Youth Productions, with his best friend from MGS, Angus Macalister. Angus was to be the leading actor in many of the plays, while Luke took on the role of writer/director/producer.

‘We did our first show, Billy Liar, at Wilmslow Parish Hall in August 2011. We got a good local cast and we had 200 people coming, so we made some cash,’ says Luke.

More importantly, that production yielded an offer for the group to use the theatre at Pownall Hall School, Wilmslow, as its home. It has since staged ten shows there.

In between dramatic staples from the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Finn Youth staged plays written by Luke. In June 2012, they presented Luke’s That’s Jam in the Studio at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. The play - which featured Greg O’Hara, one of Luke’s old friends from St Peter’s - was a call to arms for his generation to treat their lives as seriously as did the generation which endured the Second World War.

Luke met another MGS old boy, acclaimed theatre and film director Sir Nicholas Hytner, and was encouraged to send some of his writing to London. Hence, another landmark came when Luke’s play Trash was staged at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London’s Covent Garden.

More original productions followed, including Luke’s The Last Cowboy of Wilmslow at Pownall Hall, and his Vampire By Implication at Joshua Brooks in Manchester.

Finn Youth is managing to finance itself at a time when much art depends upon public subsidy for its very existence. But drama is, for many, not so much a career as a labour of love.

‘The shows at the Pownall were the easiest to make money on because it’s rent-free,’ says Luke. ‘The shows we’ve done in Manchester, the main aim was to break even. Nowadays, even the shows in the West End, you don’t get paid nearly anything. I was shocked when I heard that for the Trash play, 150 actors had applied, and when I asked the ones who got it how much they were getting paid, they said nothing. They were doing it just for the experience.’

And yet Luke is optimistic about his generation’s artistic endeavours, a message encapsulated in What Art Means in 2015, a speech he wrote at the invitation of the Royal Exchange Theatre. The speech was delivered at the theatre by Finn Youth core member Danielle Roseler in November.

Luke now lives in Wilmslow, flat-sharing with Angus.

‘I like it here,’ he says. ‘A lot of the friends we have around here have always seemed really willing and had the time and energy, and there’s an engaged audience around here as well.’

As for 2016, Luke is not quite sure what theatrical triumphs await, but Finn Youth will stay busy.

‘My hope is that we keep pushing on and doing this as regularly as possible, and keep getting bigger and bigger shows,’ says Luke. ‘In Manchester, getting a show at the Royal Exchange is the best you can go for. I wouldn’t trade doing six local shows up here for one massive show in London, but I do want to develop more with shows in London.’