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Birmingham play PALS in line for West End run

The bitter-sweet coming of age drama, PALS, penned by a city playwright Nick Hennegan, was first staged in the Billesley pub in Kings Heath in May 1998 by the Maverick Theatre Company

Playwright Nick Hennegan

A Birmingham play first performed in a pub 16 years ago could get a new lease of life in London’s West End.

The bitter-sweet coming of age drama, PALS, penned by a city playwright Nick Hennegan, was first staged in the Billesley pub in Kings Heath in May 1998 by the Maverick Theatre Company.

However, the play, the story of four young people growing up in Birmingham in the 1960s, could now enjoy a five-week run at London’s St James’ Theatre this autumn.

It has reached the final 12 of a Society of London Theatre (SOLT) scheme, One Stage, which will see three of the best works performed in the West End.

Mr Hennegan has received a bursary to work on the reboot and he is now meeting London theatre professionals in a bid to see the project come to fruition.

Mr Hennegan said the production had enjoyed a strong response and he is confident it will enjoy a West End run.

“It is very exciting to think that something which started out in a pub in Birmingham has already attracted such attention and could be coming to theatre land in London,” he said. “It’s profile is high already and they are spending a lot of time on it, a lot of effort and quite a lot of money too.

“They are making decisions based on what they think will be a commercial hit.”

When PALS was first staged word of mouth soon spread and by the end of its first run it was playing to sell-out audiences.

Its initial success prompted further runs in Birmingham Library Theatre and Solihull Arts Complex, before it returned to The Billesley for another sell-out run.

Mr Hennegan, who had a stint as a BRMB DJ before setting up Maverick Theatre, said: “It is a comedy about four kids – Pete, Andy, Linda and Sue, hence the PALS title, growing up on a council estate in Birmingham.

“They discover each other, friendship and the ups and downs of life. Really it is my life story.

“It was described by someone as a cross between Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills and Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers.

“Critically it did very well. The fact it moved audiences in the way it did makes me think it would work in London too, or anywhere for that matter.”

The play sees just four actors, play the parts of the main characters, their parents, teachers, youth workers and others.

Mr Hennegan, who moved to London five years ago to pursue his theatrical dreams, said some consideration had been given to whether PALS should be set somewhere else but he decided it should remain true to its Midland roots.

“People say there is a good heartedness about Birmingham and the Midlands and I am hoping that will come across.”

Mr Hennegan has already attracted investment from well-known theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh for an unrelated venture, the London Literary Pub Crawl, an interactive tour of pubs and other locations related to London’s rich literary history. It features actors playing the parts of famous literary figures and includes a pub quiz and a traditional Cockney sing-song.

Maverick also enjoyed success with Mr Hennegan’s version of Shakespeare’s Henry V. His one-man interpretation of the play was lauded by the critics and was even staged off Broadway, while Hancock’s Finest Hour saw former Crossroads actor Paul Henry play Birmingham comic Tony Hancock in a successful touring production.

 
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