Joe McGann and Jake Norton to premiere new play at Liverpool Theatre Festival

Liverpool Theatre Festival returns in less than two weeks – and one highlight of the 11-day programme is Sober Companion, a specially commissioned new play co-written and co-starring Liverpool-born actor Joe McGann and Jake Norton.

Sober Companion will premiere at Liverpool Theatre Festival on Saturday 22 July, with two performances at 3.30pm and 7.30pm. It is one of three specially commissioned works to be presented for the very first time at the event.

This is the first time playwrights and actors Joe McGann and Jake Norton have been involved in Liverpool Theatre Festival, and they are relishing the experience.

Written and performed by Joe McGann and Jake Norton, the play explores the funny, raw, and sometimes dark places of fame, addiction, and recovery. It is suitable for audiences aged 14 and upwards.

Liverpool-born Joe McGann is part of the well-renowned and talented McGann family. He is probably best loved for his role in long-running television sitcom The Upper Hand alongside Diana Weston and Honor Blackman. He will appear in new Netflix series KAOS. Theatre credits include West End productions by Bertolt Brecht, Sam Shepherd, John Steinbeck, and Willy Russell. Joe moved back to Liverpool three years ago after moving away in the late 1970s.

Jake Norton trained at Liverpool John Moores University and Hope Street Theatre. He lectured at Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) for seven years, before going on to lecture at The MGA in Edinburgh. The London-born playwright and actor, lived in Liverpool for 22 years before heading to Scotland where he still lives – so he is very much forward to again taking to the stage in Liverpool. Jake’s screen credits include Coronation Street, The Bill, Emmerdale, The Royal, and he has recorded several plays for BBC Radio 4. His theatre work has seen him tour extensively nationally and internationally.

Jake Norton plays Dan – a high-flying prime time television presenter. He also has a bad habit which he denies, but it’s not hidden as well as he thinks. People close to him are concerned.

Joe McGann plays Gerard – and he has seen it all before. He has personal experience of recovery that could be useful to Dan, so his services have been engaged. He embraces the basic human right of ‘taking the edge off’ reality, and the hidden consequences of black-outs.

There is an intervention, intrusion of privacy, stranger in the midst. We all need a little help sometimes, but it can be difficult to admit. “No good deed goes unpunished” – Oscar Wilde.

Joe McGann explained, “Sober Companion is a very interesting piece for this year’s Liverpool Theatre Festival. Jake and I explored the idea of intervention – the action taken when someone is deemed to be harming themselves (and others) with their addiction to drugs or alcohol. We thought it would be an interesting subject for a play. We are both great fans of theatre and appreciate its role as a ‘safe space’ where such conversations can be had. From there, Sober Companion was born.

“We are very excited to present the play at St Luke’s – it’s a wonderful, democratic, inspiring space for theatre in this city, an important setting to showcase local and international talent outside of conventional venues.Liverpool Theatre Festival is attracting new audiences to the performing arts in Liverpool, and we’re excited to stage the premiere performances of our new play as part of this year’s excellent programme.”

Jake Norton added, “We originally pitched fantastic play The Seven Acts Of Mercy by Anders Lustgarten to venues but they were keen on a piece featuring just us two. We started work on a play originally called Sponsor – we shifted the character relationship, it developed quickly and took on a life of its own. And in one night round Joe’s kitchen table we created Sober Companion. Liverpool Theatre Festival had faith in us and commissioned it – then we had to write it! What a platform and opportunity to air new live theatre works.

“The focus is intense, the intervention itself. It’s all based in one unescapable room – the dressing room of a very famous fictional TV presenter. We have written a play which interests us and hopefully resonates with others. Joe is from Liverpool, and I happily lived there for over two decades, so it will feel like a homecoming gig for me. Let’s see what the festival crowd thinks of it.”

Sober Companion is one of three shows specially commissioned and will premiere at Liverpool Theatre Festival. The others are children’s shows The Oogy Boogy Man and Fred The Musical. The festival returns this month for its fourth consecutive year this time with a Summer run, taking place outdoors at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church in Liverpool city centre from Thursday 20 July to Sunday 30 July.

Liverpool Theatre Festival Producer and Artistic Director Bill Elms commented:“The ethos of Liverpool Theatre Festival is to showcase, support, and inspire established works and new live theatre. Joe and Jake are the perfect example of just how creatives and the festival can work. I hope to see this impressive new work have a life after the festival, and I am looking forward to working with the team to tour the play around the UK in 2024.

“We’re now less than two weeks until the festival opens at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church on Thursday 20 July. The festival runs for 11 days and features 18 shows covering 24 performances – no mean feat for a festival still very much in its infancy. This is our fourth consecutive year and the festival continues to develop into an annual event we are very proud of – everyone is welcome to join us for accessible, affordable live theatre.”

This year’s Liverpool Theatre Festival is being dedicated to Liverpool playwright Mark Davies Markham, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Mark premiered his one-woman play 2Gorgeous4U at last year’s LTF. This year the show is being staged once more in memory of Mark. Funds from the performance will be donated to charity.

Nine family shows will be staged during the festival, which coincides with the school Summer holidays for the very first time. Alongside brand new commissions The Oogy Boogy Man and Fred The Musical, the children’s shows are The Magic Bookmark With Mama G, Magic Gareth: Level Up!, Rubbish Romeo And Juliet, The Monkey With No Bum, Shout! The Mod Musical, Dame Fanny & Her Fabulous Friends, and The Tempest.

The full line-up also features Viva Tenori – A Celebration Of The Three Tenors; Whatever Happened To Billy Kenny; Perfectly Frank; A Night With Daniel Taylor – His Music And His Friends; Locomotive For Murder: The Improvised Whodunnit; Pauline Daniels – Get Me Before The Crematorium Does; and Laughterhouse Comedy – Pride Special featuring Morgan Rees and Bethany Black.

Liverpool City Region Pride Festival takes place between 28 July and 30 July, and LTF shows have been specifically programmed on these dates to complement the weekend celebration.

This year’s festival partners are Liverpool BID Company, Edge Hill University, Morecrofts Solicitors, Bill Elms Associates, Ticket Quarter, and The Harrogate Group.

This project is part-funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority as the lead authority. Along with Liverpool City Council and Culture Liverpool.

Liverpool Theatre Festival was created by Liverpool theatre producer Bill Elms, who has worked in the theatre industry for more than 30 years. Theatres and live entertainment venues were ordered to close immediately under the Government’s first national Covid-19 lockdown guidelines in March 2020. It was Bill’s mission and vision to reinvigorate and boost the city’s live performance and creative arts sector, offering a lifeline when it was needed most. Liverpool Theatre Festival was created in a matter of weeks.

Since its inaugural staging in Autumn 2020, it has gone on to win praise from audiences and critics alike, as well as winning many awards along the way. Liverpool Theatre Festival is committed to supporting local artists, creatives, and theatre companies.

Fringe event Little LTF – Liverpool Theatre Festival Of New Works will take place in the Autumn, running between Tuesday 3 October and Sunday 8 October 2023. Performances will be staged within the more intimate marquee at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church. Further details about submitting work will be announced soon.

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