Brand new play at Stockton’s ARC brings inspirational audience response

A Saltburn-based playwright and theatre director has described the standing ovations for a brand new play as ‘heart-warming and inspirational’, and revealed that plans are now underway to tour the play next year.

Occupation, written by Pauline Heath, and directed by Vici Wreford-Sinnott, had audiences spellbound and on their feet applauding at two performances at Stockton’s ARC this week.

The hard-hitting, moving and often hilarious play was set around a disability rally, where people who normally wouldn’t dream of taking part in a protest had gathered together to draw attention to real stories and the often hidden voices of disabled people today.

Vici’s Little Cog Theatre Company brought together a strong cast of Patricia Jones, Coll Metcalfe, Andrew McLay and Charlie Fennell, who joined forces with a 12-strong community cast to tell the stories of a disabled Falklands veteran, a homeless young man, a professional senior manager and a single mum with a disabled son who all have their own daily struggles to survive.

Vici said: “Occupation has been a play living in Pauline Heath’s head for over eight years, and it’s been fantastic to bring it to life this year with help from both ARC and Arts Council England.

“Despite the time it has taken to get it to this stage, it has never been more relevant, more pertinent and more urgent.

“In 2017 the UN completed a report into its findings of the treatment of disabled people in the UK. The report was damning – ‘UK government fails to protect disabled people,’ ‘grave violations of disabled peoples’ human rights,’ and finally going as far as to say that there is a ‘human catastrophe’ in the UK and its treatment of disabled people in 21st Century Britain.

“Several leading academics have undertaken research into the number of additional deaths of disabled people under this and the previous government’s austerity measures, and the play invited us into the real stories of disabled people and their families under austerity.

“The play was based on research and interviews with real people, and Pauline and all the cast were fantastic in bringing the subject to life with passion, warmth and a real sense of urgency.

“More than that, I was speaking with some of the audience members afterwards, and they said it was extremely rare to be at a play were both the audience and the cast had such an immediately strong bond – and I think that absolutely captured both the spirit of the play, and also the Spirit of Teesside right there.

“It’s all about how people, all of us, are stronger when we stand together, make our voices heard together, and try to make change happen together. So the audience response was both heart-warming and inspirational in equal measure.

“Several audience members urged us afterwards to take the play on the road so as many people as possible could see it, and we will be definitely be aiming to go on tour sometime next year.”