Our City Of Radicals year sees a disparate bunch of performers, talks and live shows punctuate the calendar, and animate our streets with counter-culture events and celebrations of our deeply ingrained desire to challenge, question and defy. It couldn’t have been better timed: as protesters take to the streets across the country, swingeing cuts cripple our public services, and a Royal Wedding adds a sickeningly incongruous slither of icing on top, all the ingredients are there for another summer of discontent. Is is just us, or can you smell revolution in the air?
SevenStreets met up with Liverpool poet, musician and playwright, the excellent Lizzie Nunnery, (pic r) to get her take on the city, our radical DNA, and her ‘Radical City’ happening at the Everyman, featuring Frank Cottrell Boyce, poets Paul Farley and Eleanor Rees, songwriter Martin Heslop, Liverpool music legend Jack Roberts, and a host of musicians, film makers and friends.
Almanac began a couple of years ago when myself and writer Lindsay Rodden started putting on folk gigs at places like Mello Mello, The Blackie and the Palm House in Sefton Park. The gigs were always themed and included poetry or storytelling alongside the music. It was always about getting local artists to collaborate and take on challenges to create new work, so it wasn’t a big leap to start putting on outright theatre events. What we’re really into right now is experimenting with how music can work with other elements like film, documentary and poetry, to do special things to an audience.
We did a show in the Everyman Theatre’s new writing festival last year which involved collaborations between playwrights and songwriters, and on the back of that the Everyman asked us to stage a full production for one night only as part of their contribution to the ‘City of Radicals’ year. The result will happen on April 23rd and we’re calling it: ‘Radical City: A Happening on Hope Street’, which is a title that pays homage to Adrian Henri’s ‘happenings’ in the 60s, as well as the experimental events the Liverpool Left Theatre used to stage back in the 30s in what’s now the Unity Theatre.
Do you think we’re still a radical city? If so, how does that trait play itself out?
I think putting together this night has really convinced me that in many ways we are still a radical city. We’ve been talking to all kinds of local radicals, whether that means mad artists doing brilliant experimental things or young people who’ve just come back from political activism in Palestine. There’s a tendency to think that in this country people have given up on politics and are essentially cynical rather than active, but we’ve met so many people who prove otherwise. One thing that struck us when we were interviewing various activists and campaigners was how outward looking they were – they were as likely to identify with someone in Cuba as much as someone in London.
You travel a lot – do you still think there’s an identifiable Liverpool-ness? And is it, like the banners say – anarchic and bolshy?
I think there are a lot of different versions of Liverpool and Liverpool-ness and it’s really important that we don’t get stuck in narrow, exclusive versions of ourselves. At the same time though I do think there’s something individual and specific about the energy of Liverpool. There’s an ingrained socialism and an impulse to question everything which I find really stimulating as a writer and musician. I’d agree with ‘anarchic’ definitely, and I think ‘bolshy’ is easily translated as forthright and challenging, which is no bad thing.
Do you think performance can, still, have a transformative power? Can it be used to change consciousness or have a ‘call to arms’ effect?
I hope so. It’s something I think about a lot. I think art should respond to social change – it should have something to say about that. I don’t know why anyone would sing a political song if they weren’t trying to inspire people. I don’t know if a revolution ever literally started in a theatre or at a gig*, but a good play or a good gig is in a way a conversation with the audience. A call to arms can be about putting forward a possibility and letting it float, and that can be really powerful.
What about your work – do you think the message is as important as the medium?
That’s a hard one. I think the content is as important as the form. I’m obsessed with lyrics and I’d never go all Manic Street Preachers and ban myself from writing love songs. I love love songs and songs that tell stories for the sake of just telling stories. But there’s got to be a strong place for social and political songwriting as well. With my plays I’m always trying to say something big enough and relevant enough that people are going to be engaged and moved, but my impulse is always to question rather than deliver a message. If you make people question themselves then maybe a message comes out.
There’s a lightness of touch in your work that enables you to speak softly and carry a big stick, but do your beliefs inform everything you do?
I’d like to agree! Can I keep that one? My political beliefs inform a lot of my work, but I don’t ever assume that I have a right to preach to people. I want to tell stories and struggle with ideas, and as soon as you go near polemic then an arrogance comes in – an implication that the writer’s cleverer than the audience, and that’s something I never want to do.
Radical City: A Happening on Hope Street, 23 April
Hope Street, Liverpool
Tickets £12 (£10 concessions) from Everyman Theatre box office in person, or on 0151 709 4776, or online at www.everymanplayhouse.com
Radical City is part of the Working Class Life and Music Festival, the biggest celebration of working class culture on the planet. This one-off performance is also part of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse City of Radicals week.