DMU playwright returns with new play – and national award nomination

A De Montfort University (DMU) lecturer who won national plaudits for a time-traveling Shakespeare play is returning to the stage with a new creation. 

A year after his comedy Strange Tale became the first original play to be performed at the Shakespeare North Playhouse, Rob Brannen, Emeritus Professor of Arts Education is back with a new performance. 

Collaborating with Imaginarium Theatre, Strange Tale envisioned what might happen if William Shakespeare had been transported to the modern town of Prescot, Merseyside, home of the Playhouse.  

Winning rave reviews, the show was a hit with audiences and earned an extended run. Off the back of this success, Imaginarium are one of the six finalists to face a public vote for the People’s Choice Award at the 2024 Liverpool City Region Culture and Creativity Awards. Voting is open until 9 February with the winner being announced at the award ceremony at St. Helens Rugby League Stadium on 7 March. 



The success of Strange Tale led the theatre to commission a second work from Prof Brannen - this time reworking Jane Austin’s classic tale of three sisters, Pride and Prejudice, recasting it as a tale about class in the north of England in the 2020s.  

Prof Brannen said: “I had the idea to take the story and the themes of Pride and Prejudice, so I ran some workshops, asking how it might translate to modern day.” 

Like with Strange Tale, Prof Brannen has brought together a cast of locals, further cementing the idea that the people of Prescot should have a sense of community ownership of Shakespeare North. Although some of the plot points about inheritance aren’t transferable, Brennan has focused on those issues that are affecting the everyday lives of people in the town.  

“In our version,” Prof Branen said, “the Bennett sisters, can’t leave home because of the cost-of-living crisis. They can’t afford a mortgage, and their mother is desperate for them to get married and move out of the house.  

“Meanwhile, the well-off Mr Bingley buys the big house on the edge town which has been empty for years and brings with him his best friend, Mr Darcy. The type of house that had been occupied by a prosperous person in the 19th century.” 

For Prof Brannen, the opportunity to work closely with the local community has been very rewarding.  

He said: “Having been a teacher who gets to know his students and their learning styles, the process of me working out how the playwright sits within a community arts project, rather than just letting me get run away with my own creative ideas, has been very rewarding.  

“How do I develop these people, push their boundaries? You are putting people in a very vulnerable situation, in front of sold-out audiences in a large capacity theatre. You have to do your best to support them.” 

Also welcome is the opportunity to once again collaborate with Imaginarium, who Brannen first met at the Edinburgh Fringe.  

“Imaginarium were adapting one of my plays, The Yarn, so I booked tickets,” he said. “I was walking down the street and was flyered for my own play! Once they found out I was Rob Brannen, I was dragged down the street to meet the cast and the director.”  

“It was the best performance of that play I’d seen,” Brannen continued. “We got on very well. I later wrote a play for them called Grace and the Sea, and when Shakespeare North was being built, Imaginarium were selected as the associate community company. At that point they got in touch, and here we are!” 

Written by Rob Brannen and produced and directed by Gaynor La Rocca, Pride and Prejudice, supported by Arts Council England, will be staged from 7-10 February. 

Tickets can be ordered at: 

Posted on Thursday 25 January 2024

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