Ladies That Bus - a new play based on a famous Lancashire route
- Credit: Sarah Longworth
A new play which debuts this month in Lancashire takes tales from the bus to the stage
The most famous bus route between Lancashire and the Lake District has inspired a play which is stopping off at theatres from this month.
Audiences will be transported into the lives of a kaleidoscope of different characters when they buy tickets for Ladies That Bus which premieres at Lancaster's Dukes theatre from February 6th-9th.
The heart-warming new play is based on real life interviews with passengers on route 555 between Lancaster and Keswick. It is the creation of actor and composer, Helen Longworth who lives in Heysham, Todmorden-based writer and actor Joyce Branagh, actor Nicola Jayne Ingram, theatre-maker and actor Eve Robertson, and director Kirstie Davies. The play - the group's first theatrical journey together as a team - came from an idea by The Dukes, Keswick's Theatre by the Lake and the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal who wanted to support a production which focused on their area of the country. They realised the 555 connected all three venues and asked for projects which might celebrate the bus and the communities around the route.
The result is a tale of journeys taken and not taken, of regrets and celebrations: a day in the life of route 555.
Last year the writers met more than 500 people during interviews, workshops and on the 555 itself, getting to know the area, the people and the stories.
The 555, operated by Stagecoach, travels through some of the most scenic areas in the country and at 45 miles long, is one of the longest routes in England, taking an average of two hours and 40 minutes to complete.
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Although the three-strong cast of Helen, Joyce and Nicola were all familiar with the route, none had travelled on it until they became involved with the production.
'We didn't know what to expect,' said Joyce, who is also the play's lead writer. 'The play's themes are universal: love, friendship, hope and struggling with adversity. They're life stories that just happen to be set on a bus.'
Joyce has written plays based on real people before, including the award-winning Boomtown Gals about Oldham women in World War One. 'Ladies That Bus is different because it fictionalises the stories of real people who are living now,' Joyce explained.
Joyce's own journey into theatre was inspired by watching her brother, Kenneth, in productions during their youth in Reading. She later trained as a director and now describes herself as a director who acts and writes a bit.
Helen has written the songs and the music for it too while also playing Hannah Riley in The Archers on Radio 4.
'I enjoy writing and playing music as a way of relaxing but this is the first time I will be referenced as a composer for a play,' said Helen who was brought up in Grimsargh.
Her songs for this show come from many and varied sources including Asda's online deliveries to a woman they met in Morecambe Library who leaves bookmarks with inspirational sayings on buses. She's also written a rousing anthem about a workplace outing that takes place on the bus.
Director Kirstie is tasked with bringing all the stories and music together for the Arts Council-funded show and she said: 'While researching for the play, we had some really touching meetings where we'd all end up blubbing. I couldn't believe what I was hearing from complete strangers. 'Every hour you see a different slice of life on the 555. There's the commuters who use it daily, then it becomes a school bus and a tourist bus with passengers from all over the world, and at night it becomes a party bus. It's also the most beautiful route with the most extraordinary scenery.'
Twenty minutes of the play was performed at a Dukes scratch night last year and the 'Ladies' were overwhelmed by the feedback.
'People were really engaged with the stories, we saw a few tears and we heard a lot of belly laughs and that's what we want really, people to be entertained and touched by stories that ring true,' said Kirstie.
Ladies That Bus opens at The Dukes from February 6th-9th before touring to Kendal's Brewery Arts Centre (11th-12th) and Theatre by the Lake, Keswick (14th-15th). To book tickets, contact the venues or visit ladiesthatbus.co.uk.