From Freedom Studios, the producers of the acclaimed Home Sweet Home and The Mill – The City of Dreams comes Brief Encounters at Bradford Interchange, a new site- specific promenade production inspired by the people who work and travel through Bradford’s iconic Interchange station. Directed by Tom Wright (The Container, Young Vic and Home Sweet Home, Freedom Studios) the debut play by Sheffield playwright Rav Sanghera will take the audience through familiar and hidden parts of the Bradford Interchange train and bus station celebrating the city’s warmth, welcome, humour and grit in a series of intertwining stories.
Rich Jevons talks to Tom about Bradford’s unique sense of difference and diversity, and the extraordinary stories that are just around the corner in even the most seemingly ordinary of spaces.
How did you first come to work with writer Rav Sanghera?
Rav was in our Street Voices programme in 2013, one of the new writers we put through a course of developing work and he co-wrote a new play, The Bridge, which we thought was really beautiful. We wanted to create a piece which was site specific and accessible to audiences who don’t usually go to the theatre as well as it being about Bradford. Rav came up with the idea of using the Interchange.
Could you tell us a bit about his primary research?
Because Rav comes from a journalistic background, research was important to him. He installed himself in the Interchange at different times over a number of days. He carried out interviews we set up with staff and security, as well as striking up conversations with people who wandered through the space. That led him out wider into Bradford itself and proved that the Interchange was a point at which all the different communities intersect.
Is difference something the show is celebrating?
It’s been interesting to me as a Yorkshireman but as an outsider from York. Over three years, I’ve had conversations with people from different communities and they all say remarkably similar things. They have great pride in being Bradfordians and when the subject of the riots come up and the sensationalist news headlines about a segregated Bradford, they always respond the same way: Yes, there was a riot that happened a decade and a half ago, but no, it will never happen again. The communities of Bradford are now much tighter and interwoven. The BNP and EDL organised a march last year, but thankfully it was a complete anti-climax. They thought they’d be able to recreate events from before, but the people of Bradford just met it with a dignified silence.
Could you tell us about the interwoven stories?
There are five short stories and some of them are people who’ve never met, and some who have known each other a long time. You’ve got two friends who worked here in Bradford and one of them has moved to Leeds which meant their friendship drifted apart. They are meeting to go to their school reunion with very mixed feelings.
You’ve got two bus drivers who have been put on different shifts and they’re trying to figure out how they feel about not seeing each other again. There is a chance encounter between a cleaner and a woman in the ladies’ loo; an Asian businessman and a newly-arrived asylum seeker; and an unlikely friendship between a German woman who moved here in the forties and a young Polish boy.
How much of the Interchange does the audience get to see on the promenade performance?
One thing I love about the production is that you get to see the Interchange from different angles. Like Bradford itself, architecturally it’s a gloriously diverse mess because nobody ever planned it. There are bits from the Edwardian railways next to seventies buildings stuck here and there. You get to see the back passageways and secret spaces that you don’t normally see.
Would you say Rav is collecting extraordinary tales based on the very ordinary?
One of the things that came out of the research Rav did, are the five plays themselves. But actually if the audience wanders around, there is a growing sense that everybody that they walk past has their own story. When we leave there will be hundreds more encounters in the Interchange every day, we just won’t be there to watch them.
And what would you like the audience to take away with them?
On the surface to identify difference and how that is, but when you scratch the surface we all the same wants, needs and drives – that’s wonderful!
Brief Encounters at Bradford Interchange runs from the 6-10 October 2015.