As an international student, I find getting to know the local area, but most importantly, the local people, incredibly fascinating. It is sometimes the case that students (whether international or home) do not know much about Lancaster as a city, nor do they know its local community. Lancastrians, a play created by Liz and Nick Stevenson born and raised in Whittle-le-Woods, performed by a marvellous trio of actors (Lancaster-based Roberta Kerr, Natasha Patel and Matthew Durkan) was able to catch the spirit of Lancashire using humour, but also by not shying away from problematic issues.
The event took place in The Dukes in a room with chairs scattered all over it. There wasn’t any stage separating the audience from the performers. Since everything the actors said were real words collected from interviews with some 500 Lancastrians, the idea of not having a clear division between the audience and the stage emphasised the fact that it was a play about the people of Lancashire for the people of Lancashire – the audience was, in a way, part of the production process. Even if none of us has been interviewed for this play, we are still part of this community, and I am sure that many elders present at the event could recognise themselves in the nostalgic stories of having grown up in the green lands of Lancashire.
The characters played by the actors were very varied. We could hear the voices of teenagers and their opinion on what it looks like to live in Lancashire; business owners and their ups and downs; the elderly who sometimes gave cutting remarks about the students taking over the town, but followed up by well-affected comments about our youthful energy and intelligence (thank you!). Those who left Lancashire to live elsewhere, but decided to return to the place they can truly call their home; people were telling stories about a multicultural festival they organised and the joy of taking part in such an event, and many more accounts about what it means to live Lancashire. In the scenes mentioned above, I could not help but smile or even laugh out loud, but there were also moments in which it was difficult not to feel heartbroken. A story of a Muslim woman, even though told in a humorous way, about her every-day experience of Islamophobia, locals’ aversion towards people who speak another language on the bus who think they are talking about them as well as a story of an asylum seeker, who was extremely grateful to the people of Lancashire. These were among those who left me feeling upset, and in the latter case hopeful as well. Lancastrians, despite its overall cheerful tenor, was not afraid of showing the sometimes gloomy realities of life which to me, was very important.
Being able to appreciate one’s little homeland, that is a city/town/village or a region you grew up in, knowing its history and traditions, finding beauty in its landscape, and contributing to improving the quality of life there are all universal morals of the play. Lancastrians are people who are proud of their northern roots, and they are very willing to show it, but they are (for the most part) welcoming too. Anyone can become a Lancastrian if they also share the same enthusiasm for the region as its residents (for the most part) certainly do.