Sunday sit-down with… Rebecca Glendenning
We caught up with the Newcastle-based playwright, performer and Drag Idol 2022 winner to chat about why she’s adapted a new punk stage play from the cult film, We Are The Best! – opening at Live Theatre on 26th May.
Following the adventures of three young teenagers from Sweden, We Are The Best! is a story of youthful rebellion, friendship and punk music, set in the 1980s.
As someone who grew up immersed in the sound of punk, Newcastle-based writer and theatre maker Rebecca Glendenning was delighted when Live Theatre’s Artistic Director, Jack McNamara, commissioned her to adapt the story for the stage.
But this isn’t Rebecca’s first piece of work for Newcastle’s Quayside theatre. She was also one of the artists behind the phenomenal success of Bonnie and Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular – Live Theatre’s 2021 festive offering.
Always influenced heavily by politics and sexuality, Rebecca enjoys challenging classic narrative tropes and structures in her writing, reworking them to create fresh and politically driven storytelling. Having previously had short pieces also performed for Workie Ticket and Curious Arts, Rebecca was one of the writers commissioned by for ‘Women Warriors’, which focused on female veterans (The Exchange, 2019), and is a co-founder of theatre company Bonnie and Ben Dover Love (formerly Bonnie and the Bonnettes).
We caught up with Rebecca to find out what life is really like as a writer on the North East’s theatre scene, the importance of punk music to politics, and what we can expect from We Are The Best! when it opens at Live Theatre on 26th May…
What can we expect from We Are The Best!?
It isn’t quite a coming-of-age story. It’s a celebration of being 13, with your best mates and feeling invincible. It’s that moment in the characters’ lives before anything heavy takes it weight: there are no exams, no university, no need to think about the future just yet. They’re completely absorbed in their own lives and they’re untouchable. It’s also massively about friendship – they’re glued to each other in that brilliant way a lot of teenage friendships have, completely inseparable. They want to say something and be heard, and they want to do that with music!
I’d say audiences can expect a really raucous evening full of loud music, laughs and a lot of ‘80s references.
You were also a fan of punk growing up – why is that music so important to you?
Such a fan! Growing up in Bradford in the shadows of the 2001 riots, a lot of far-right groups like the National Front, the BNP, and the EDL were trying to stir up more tension in our city. There was a lot of political tension that, even as a kid, it was easy to feel. There was a real fear, especially for my friends who, by just existing, were the target of such blatant hatred and racism.
I went along to the Bingley Weekender when I was about 13 with some friends and family, back when it was free on a Friday, and the punk bands were the ones speaking out against these hate groups. They were the bands preaching unity and love and rebellion against right wing and capitalist agendas. I fell in love with it. The music gave me somewhere to put my teenage angst, whilst the lyrics and the messages gave me a political drive, a reassurance that there was resistance against hatred and racism and I felt empowered to stand against it. It really gave me a direction and political compass that I still use to guide me now.
Bonnie and Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular was a big hit at Live Theatre in December. How did that show come to be?
Oh, I love that show! I’ll forever love that show! We’d been big fans of Your Aunt Fanny – an all-female comedy sketch group from the North East – for ages. They’re some of the most hilarious and lovely women you’ll ever get the chance to meet and we adore them. I think it all came from chats between The House of Love‘s Cameron Sharp, The Fanny’s Lydia Brickland, and Live’s Graeme Thompson, but when it was initially brought up we all jumped at the idea.
The show follows an office Christmas party that goes awry after a rather dodgy email is sent from middle manager Kim to The Big Boss. Every member of the team ends up with their own reason to join Kim and get to the Big Boss’s office – to name a few: chain-smoking office matriarch Lynne (Cameron Sharp) who wants to turn the thermostat down, resident mean girl Ive (Matilda Neil) who needs to retrieve some compromising evidence of her affair with the boss, foul-mouthed receptionist Carol (Jackie Edwards) who needs to find out if she got the bonus this year, and absolute sweetheart Holly (Katie Powell) who just wanted to give the boss a Chirstmas hamper.
We all got to play such exaggerated characters; I was DJ Stace, in charge of all the Christmas party tunes. Hattie Eason had the ride of her life as Lorraine, who just really wanted to prove she was fun and took it too far, and Brogan Gilbert made me crack up onstage so many times as Penny, the Gen Z intern. I could speak about this show forever, it holds a really special place in my heart.
As both a writer and a performer, how does it feel to create a script and then hand it over to a director and cast to bring to life?
A bit scary, to be honest! But mostly exciting. I love making and living in the little worlds of each show, as a writer and performer, so when I’ve been living in it alone for so long as a writer, sometimes it’s freeing to watch other people step into the world and bring their own expertise and eyes to it. I don’t know if it’s because I have a background in devising, but I just love watching what other people bring to the table. I haven’t stopped performing though. The cabaret collective that I’m a part of, The House of Love, have taken a much-needed rest period, but we have lots cooking!
You’ve been involved with a few different venues and collaborators on the Newcastle arts scene. How would you describe the opportunities on offer for emerging artists in the North East right now?
I think there should always be more. I’m a working-class artist, so I’ll always be advocating for opening doors and holding them open for everyone. There are some brilliant venues doing some incredible things for young people and those just out of university, but I think there’s so many emerging artists older than 25 who have less opportunity given to them. Saying that, though, I’m happy to see scratch nights are slowly making a comeback. When myself, Cameron Sharp and Hattie Eason first started Bonnie and The Bonnettes in 2016, those nights were how we honed our craft. They did us a great deal of good and I’d love to see them return.
I think open calls such as Live’s 10 Minutes To scratch nights, and Alphabetti’s response writing opportunitiesare incredible, and venues are doing a lot more open casting and being more transparent about opportunities, which is always good. We have some truly phenomenal talent up here and I’ve been really fortunate to have worked with some of it. I hope, as a region, we continue to support the incredible artists that call the North East home.
And finally, what will you be working on next?
I have some things bubbling which is really exciting! Myself and Cameron Sharp are teaming up with The Six Twenty for our next show, I Died in a Moshpit – a coming-of-age show inspired by my experiences in the mosh pits of the Leeds punk scene when I was a teenager. I’m also teaming up with VonFox Promotions to write my first ever short film! Very exciting stuff.
We Are The Best! opens at Live Theatre on 26th May and runs until 18th June
To book your tickets, visit Live Theatre’s website
Live Theatre, Broad Chare, Quayside, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 3DQ