interviews Keith Saha of
20 Stories High develop their productions at the old and unique Edge
Hill station. Their numerous award-winning productions have toured the
nation. I met co-founder Keith Saha on a lovely May morning.
How would you describe Liverpool’s grassroots
art and culture? What impresses you most?
Obviously Liverpool has a long history of talent from the working class
streets, pubs and clubs, developing street culture and allowing its creators
to flourish. There are two sides to our work. We have our professional
touring work, and we run participatory programmes in Edge Hill and the
Toxteth areas. They are both linked socially and politically as well as
artistically. In our participatory programmes we like to give young people
the chance to get involved in participating in theatre and the arts. We
are just a small part of the jigsaw though as there are plenty of organisations
out there working hard.
Is there a sense of the famous/infamous scouse
character in your production?
I suppose being from being from Birkenhead myself, and some of our other
writers being from areas of Merseyside, we do have scouse humour, politics
and outlook in our work. Having said that, we do work with national and
international writers as well.
Does Liverpool inspire any of your work?
Yes, definitely. As did Julia (Keith's co-founder). I returned from London
four years ago to set up the company with Julia. It’s been a fantastic
inspiration as are the people who live here. It’s the people who
make the city. They inspire us to do what we do.
Are there writers that you admire, particular
Growing up in 1980s Liverpool, ‘Boys From The Black Stuff’
was huge, so Alan Bleasdale was a big inspiration. I remember kids going
round the playground pretending to be Yozza; I also loved G.B.H. Since
the re-opening of the Everyman Theatre, a renaissance of new writers has
emerged, such as Lizzie Nunnery and Laurence Wilson. I am also a big fan
of Esther Wilson.
What - if any - criticisms are levelled at
Good question, I have never been asked that before. Well, I suppose if
people have a problem with our work they have never told me in person.
I’m not saying though they don’t have a grumble in the bar
afterwards about our production. I have heard however some people don’t
like to our use of strong language in some of our productions.
How would you describe the Liverpool audience?
Do they differ from other regions?
We have just done a national tour, taking in Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester,
London and Ipswich. But there is something about coming back to Liverpool
that is special for me, especially the Everyman Theatre. There is nothing
quite like it.
What inspired you to create this company?
In the UK theatre there are still voices not being heard. We feel theatre
in the UK is still predominately white and middle class. Our mission statement
is “Everybody has a story to tell and their own way of telling it.”
We seek to redress the balance, whilst also being innovative and inclusive.
Laurence Wilson has just been presented with
the Brian Way Award – which is given for the best new play for young
audiences. What is your biggest achievement?
Awards are nice and it was a good achievement for Lawrence but I feel
our greatest achievement is seeing the audience response to our work.
No not really. When we started all we wanted to do was small local productions,
and survive. It has snowballed since then and grown bigger than we ever
hoped for. Our work in schools an youth clubs is of equal importance to
us as the big national venues touring we do.
What does the future hold for 20 Stories High?
To still be doing what we are doing and not lose sight of our aim. We
would also like to expand in terms of our team.
Is there any advice you wish you had received
when you were starting out?
We were incredibly lucky when we started, that we had surrounded ourselves
with good people and good mentors who gave good advice: “Be true
to your artistic vision”. Can I give a special mention to the Contact
Theatre in Manchester and a man called John McGrath?