I had a chat with Pete Gibson, who I recently interviewed for We Apologise for the Inconvenience, about his role in Stephen Dodwell’s Powerhouse Town in which six lives collide in a betting shop, by the end of the day one of them is dead.
Tell us about your character in Powerhouse Town?
The characters in Powerhouse Town are facing the kinds of issues many people encounter in the post-manufacturing North today, such as redundancy, social exclusion, poverty and lack of opportunity. I am playing Bob the Taxi, who sees all of those shades of life from the front of his cab, but what makes him such a great character to play is that he dresses as Elvis Presley to try and cheer those people up! This despite suffering from a very serious ongoing health problem. It’s that fortitude I really admire in Bob. Whatever life thrusts at Northerners like him and us, we adapt and somehow find some humour it in.
Is it a modern-day Agatha Christie murder mystery?
Ha, ha, not really! There are a death and angst is a constant undercurrent in Powerhouse Town. Even though it deals with dark subjects, there are laugh-out-loud humorous lines and the brilliant dialogue writer Stephen Dodwell gives us, seems to me very reminiscent of John Cooper-Clarke in his “Evidently Chickentown” period. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB3NlOUg-ps
Are you a betting man?
When I was kid my grandma (she was quite a character!) used to get me to go down to the bookies and give some cash to a bloke outside the shop to put on a horse! I don’t think she ever won. I went into a few bookies recently for research purposes and even though the equipment is high-tech and the staff lovely, there is still that air of dashed dreams and desperation. Being an actor – and not highly paid – I guess I struggle a bit with losing money. As my grandma used to tell me, “You never see a poor turf accountant (bookie), do you?”
Your last production, We Apologise for the Inconvenience, was based on a real person (Douglas Adams); do you approach fictional and non-fictional characters in a different way?
No, I approach them in exactly the same way. I think it is impossible to portray a real life. These are characters and I study what they say and do and what others and the writer say about them. Author Mark Griffiths gave Rachel Howard (the Duck in We Apologise for the Inconvenience) and I, some superb material to work with, and we both owe a huge debt of gratitude to him, brilliant director Emma Bird and Room 5065 Productions for giving us the opportunity. We’ve never stopped working since!
The production will be performed in Manchester and Liverpool, both cities that have suffered from industrial decline and risen from the ashes, do you think audiences in these cities relate better to these sorts of these stories than those in the south?
It is going to be really interesting to see what the response is. Both cities are home to a thriving independent theatre scene and are very, very political – even radical. Neither city wanted Brexit. I think it would be really challenging to put the play on in smaller towns around the country. Having done a lot of theatre work in places such as Oldham and Stoke-on-Trent, I have to say times are tough there and people feel really forgotten – just like some of the characters in Powerhouse Town.
How do you think Brexit and other issues will affect the Northern powerhouse theatre industry?
Last year’s Greater Manchester Fringe festival had musicals on Boris Johnson and other politically motivated drama. It looks like this year’s festival will be the same. Powerhouse Town is being produced by a group based in West Yorkshire with cast from across the North. I hope this is the way things progress, and that together we take the messages and talent of Northern theatre out to first the towns and then even overseas! Theatre can give people a voice and right now, a lot of people need that outlet.
Pete is also appearing in a special theatre, spoken word and comedy night in Salford on May 20th to celebrate the life of Victoria Wood (born in Pete’s home neighbourhood of Prestwich). Some of the money raised will be donated to Cancer Research. See https://www.ticketea.co.uk/tickets-theatre-north-west-woods/
Produced by Made it Theatre, Powerhouse Town premieres at 81 Renshaw Street Liverpool on Thursday 19 July and then enjoys a four-night run at the 53two Theatre on Albion Street Manchester (24-27 July) as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe festival.
For tickets, visit https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/madeit