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Former Brookside neighbours Eithne Browne and John McArdle have been cast in a new play by award-winning writer Frances Poet that shines a light into the experience of living with dementia.
Directed by Jemima Levick, Maggie May is an extraordinary play about an ordinary Leeds family learning to cope with a life-changing diagnosis. Written with honesty, beautifully balanced with humour and music, it is, ultimately, an uplifting story of love in all its guises.
The play, a co-production between Curve, Leeds Playhouse, and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, was originally commissioned in 2017 as part of Leeds Playhouse’s award-winning Every Third Minute Festival, an innovative seven-week festival of theatre, dementia and hope curated by people living with dementia and their supporters.
“From the moment I first heard about the project, its roots and its ambitions, I could sense that it was important, in the way it was stretching the boundaries of what and who theatre is for,” said Jemima. “Then, when I read it and felt the love and hopefulness pouring off the page for these characters and this family, I was hooked.
“I’m incredibly lucky to be working with a fantastic cast and creative team, some I’ve worked with before and others whose work I’ve admired from afar. I can’t wait to get started, bring them all together and share this beautiful play with audiences, particularly those people living with dementia and their families.”
The play centres around Maggie, played by Eithne Browne, a stalwart of the Royal Court Theatre in her native Liverpool but perhaps best known for her five-year, 65-episode stint in popular Merseyside soap Brookside as Chrissy Rogers. She is joined on stage by her fellow ‘Brookie’ alumni, John McArdle, who, as Billy Corkhill, moved his family into number 10 in 1985 and left five years and 83 tumultuous episodes later. He plays Maggie’s husband, Gordon.
Both actors have enjoyed long, successful careers, both on stage and on the small screen, including recent runs on Emmerdale, as Irene Stocks, a midwife at Hotten General, and Ronnie Hale, long-lost love of Lawrence White.
The five-strong Maggie May cast also includes Mark Holgate (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre; Julius Caesar, The Crucible, Sheffield; Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Tina & Bobby) as Maggie and Gordon’s son Michael; Shireen Farkhoy (Urban and the Shed Crew, Red Ladder; Doctors, Vera, Waterloo Road) as Mark’s girlfriend Claire; and Maxine Finch (LIT, Nottingham Playhouse; Coronation Street, Hollyoaks, DCI Banks) as Maggie’s best friend, Jo.
All performances of Maggie May at Curve and Leeds Playhouse will be Dementia Friendly, with additional staff, detailed pre-show information and a quiet space, while Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch will offer a range of dementia-friendly performances as part of their own commitment to welcoming audiences affected by dementia. Each venue will also host a free interactive installation – The Listening Booth – designed to amplify the experiences of people living with dementia.
Nicky Taylor, theatre and dementia research associate at Leeds Playhouse and advisor on Maggie May, said: “People with dementia have generously shared their stories and helped develop the script over the past three years, which the brilliant writer, Frances Poet, has completely embraced. As a result, we can present a play which feels truthful, funny and firmly rooted in the everyday experiences of many ordinary people who are learning to adapt to life with dementia.”
Maggie May is set to premiere at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch from 14 – 28 March before heading to Leeds Playhouse (31 March – 18 April) and Curve, Leicester (28 April – 2 May).
Curve’s Chief Executive Chris Stafford and Artistic Director Nikolai Foster said:
“Having worked closely with Leeds Playhouse and Nicky Taylor on leading the way with Dementia Friendly performances in the UK, we are proud to be co-producing Frances Poet’s beautiful new play Maggie May. Maggie May is a play filled with humour, warmth and joy. We are also delighted – in a Curve first – that all performances will be Dementia Friendly, ensuring this moving play can be enjoyed by all.”
Playwright Frances Poet said: “It’s always exciting to see your writing in front of an audience but Maggie May feels particularly special since it was written with such a strong audience focus. At every stage of development, from its very conception, this play has been designed to welcome the broadest possible audience to share Maggie’s story.
“Perhaps because she was inspired by the extraordinary people living with dementia I met through the Playhouse, the irrepressible and hilarious Maggie feels less like a character and more like a friend, showing us all what’s possible. I can’t wait to sit amongst people living with dementia, their supporters and anybody who loves theatre about real people so we can laugh and cry together as Maggie finds a way to live well with her diagnosis.”
The Maggie May creative team includes Set and Costume Designer Francis O’Connor, Assistant Director Anna Marshall, Lighting Designer Chris Davey, Sound Designer and Composer Claire McKenzie, and Casting Director Kay Magson CDG.