We’ve talked before about the city’s ghostly army of empty spaces. And of how we need, as a collective, to rethink our way towards reanimating them. So, imagine our surprise when, a week after our feature on Made-Here’s pop up Christmas festival, our friend Lizzie Nunnery calls to tell us of her latest project – peeling back the palimpsest at one of the city’s most curious townhouses, 100 Seel Street.
This is what we can look forward to next month, when 100 Seel Street opens its grand, pedimented front door for the first time in generations…
Lizzie: Firstly expect to be blown away by a really beautiful building. 100 Seel Street hasn’t been lived in for decades but still bears the marks of a grand family home. Everyone who’s involved fell in love with the place as soon as they set foot inside. Beyond that, expect to be moved and intrigued… unsettled and perhaps a bit scared.
The ‘guests’ will go on a walk through the memories of the house as their guide revisits a terrible event that took place here that still echoes through the building. It isn’t a horror story but the floorboards do creak, the shadows do move and strange voices are trapped within corners and behind walls.
We’re using sound design, visual installations, poetry, music and live performance- all with the aim of animating the building and making it speak. Lastly, expect to witness some phenomenal local talent. We’ve got Elinor Randle from Tmesis theatre company – famed for her amazing physical performances, as well as Nick Moss and Aisling Leyne – in my opinion two of Liverpool’s finest actors. The piece is directed by Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder who co-runs Box of Tricks theatre company in Manchester, and the whole thing is glued together by a hugely talented team of LIPA design students and technicians. In short, it’s going to weird and it’s going to be beautiful.
The joy of working on something like this is that you have an incredible existing location to interact with. The difficulty of it is you have a huge dilapidated house with virtually no power, no toilet, few building records, no central heating and quite a few holes in the floor. I’ve been on a very steep learning curve and now know things about health and safety legislation, DIY, building regs and insurance that I never knew I’d need to.
On the other hand we’ve had incredible support from Gregory Scott-Gurner of The Arts Organisation Liverpool, who holds the keys for the house, and it’s been so much more of a privilege than a trial to make it workable and wonderful for when our guests arrive in a couple of weeks time.
What came first – the location or the idea?
I’m part of a writers collective called The Alligators. We’re a group of working playwrights who’ve been meeting in pubs over the last couple of years to set the world to rights. About a year ago we started talking about launching a series of writer-led shows across the North West, to generate great collaborative work, contribute to a fringe scene, and generally show everyone what writers can do. And so The Alligator Club was born.
I stuck my hand up and said I’d curate the first event along with Joe Ward Munrow, and we quickly got playwrights Ella Greenhill and Jeff Young on board to complete the writing team. From the start we wanted to do something outside a traditional venue. I’d heard that Greg at TAO looks after some empty spaces in the city so got in touch. The first place he showed us was 100 Seel Street and we didn’t need to look any further. Every bit of the project has been inspired by the house itself. You look at a wall covered in decades of wallpaper peeling back in layers and the people who lived there before start to step out in front of you.
What about the unpredictability of promenade events – does that bring its own challenges?
I’ve been involved in promenade work as a writer before and the slightly nerve-wracking thing is the unpredictability of the audience experience. You can guide them and try to shape their journey but where they choose to look, stand, and how they choose to interact with what’s happening around them is to an extent up to them. But I think that’s what makes work like this special and hopefully a bit thrilling.
We’re only allowing people into the house in groups of twelve so it’s a fairly intense and personal experience. It’s almost like putting someone on a film set. From the start we’ve wanted the people who come to ‘100 Seel Street’ to play an active role, and I think we’ll achieve that.
We’ve talked before about Liverpool’s empty spaces. What are your thoughts?
I think things have got a lot better quite quickly. I remember going to play at acoustic nights in the Zanzibar as a teenager and half of Seel Street was derelict or looked like it was. For a lot of different reasons the city centre is much more used than it used to be and that includes spaces dedicated to music, theatre, visual art and so on.
Gregory and the rest at TAO Liverpool have made an amazing difference through their scheme to legally squat in empty buildings – lovely Mello Mello being the shining example of what can be done. But I think there’s an important difference between disused/derelict buildings and under-used buildings, and there are loads of inspiring spaces hidden away. During the Playhouse’s Everyword Festival last month Jill Heslop and Jeff Young took over a basement room in John Moores Uni on Hope Street and turned it into ‘Jeff’s Brain’ – a journey through the mind of a writer.
With brilliant work like that I think we’re slowly starting to see fringe theatre and art crossing over and finding it’s feet in Liverpool. People are starting to realise all the weird and wonderful things a performance can be, and all the surprising places you might find it.
‘100 Seel Street: the shadows speak’ runs from Fri 30th Nov- Sun 2nd December
Performances at 6pm, 7.30pm and 9pm