Steve has a strong message

THE Long Road - a hard-hitting play about the effects of knife crime - is due to be staged in Ipswich next month. JAMES MARSTON met a couple passionate about their latest project.

James Marston

THE Long Road - a hard-hitting play about the effects of knife crime - is due to be staged in Ipswich next month. JAMES MARSTON met a couple passionate about their latest project.

FOR Steve Wooldridge and his wife Linda Bailey, The Long Road is a play they feel passionately about.

The story of a family living with the after-effects of a fatal stabbing, the play is set to strike a deep chord with audiences.

It explores issues that hit the headlines every day - knife crime, teenage violence, justice and the impact of crime.

Directed by Steve, the play is the latest offering by Ipswich theatre group Gallery Players.

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Steve said the couple discovered the play, by award winning playwright Shelagh Stephenson, in the Soho Theatre in London.

He said: “Gallery Players has strong links with the Soho Theatre and Gallery Players performed Shelagh Stephenson's play Memory of Water back in 2002.

“I am passionate about this play and The Long Road is an absolutely riveting piece of theatre. It is a moving play that will touch hearts and minds.

“The play focuses on a family dealing with the after-effects of a stabbing of a teenage son by a girl called Emma.

“Two brothers are having a night out in London when Emma asks one for some money outside a nightclub. He says no and she stabs him and that's where the story starts.”

Steve, former deputy head of Chantry High School and anti-bullying consultant, said The Long Road is “hugely relevant” to young and old audiences alike.

He said: “We are encouraging schools to bring youngsters to see The Long Road. The play raises all sorts of questions about restorative justice.

“It tackles subjects high on the agenda in the criminal justice system and in schools. It focuses on the conflicts in the lives of a family after a pointless act of violence.

“It looks at the healing possibility of forgiveness even when suffering the most appalling hurt.”

The Long Road, to be performed at the Sir John Mills Theatre in Gatacre Road, might sound heavy but the play is also touchingly humorous.

Steve added: “There are some great bits of humour and humanity in the play. It is not all doom and gloom.”

Mum-of-two Linda, a former teaching assistant, is playing Mary Pritchard, the mother of the teenager killed.

She said: “It is beautifully written and very real; it doesn't feel scripted at all. You ask yourself how you would deal with that situation and as a mum that is a fascinating and difficult place to put yourself in.

“Mary cannot accept her son has died, she can't throw out his clothes, she can't throw away his shoes as they are moulded to his feet, she can't put him in the category of being dead. I totally empathise with what she's going through and as a mum it has made me think how I would react.

“There is also a tendency in the family to forget the brother that is left behind as mum and dad deal with what has happened. The play looks at the selfishness of grief which can be difficult to accept.”

During the play Mary goes to meet Emma, a decision that other members of the family find hard to accept.

Steve said: “The family implodes but by the end of the play they begin to find a way to move forward again, they begin to find a new 'normal'.”

Using two actors new to Gallery Players, Northgate High School student Maria Louis and Copleston student Josh Keeble, this is a challenging and emotional work expected to attract schools as well as mature audiences.

Linda is a long-standing member of Gallery Players and last performed with the group as Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird last November.

She added: “There is something for everybody in the play but there is a particular relevance for young people. It has a message and it has got something to say.

“When we saw the play there were a number of youngsters in the audience, they were profoundly moved by what they saw.

“At the moment all we do is report on stabbings and violence, this play looks at some of the issues we need to face if we are to tackle knife crime and teenage violence in our society.”

Currently in rehearsal, The Long Road will be performed at Ipswich's Sir John Mills Theatre from March 10 to 14. Tickets are available from the box office on 01473 211498.

Are you a fan of Gallery Players? Which productions have you enjoyed? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

The play premi�red at The Soho Theatre in May 2008 and was a sell-out run.

This is the first time the play has been performed outside London.

The Long Road was researched and performed in London's prisons.

It contains some strong language.

Brothers Joe and Dan go for a night out - only one comes back. Dan is fatally stabbed outside a nightclub and his family falls apart.

Mum - Linda Bailey

Dad - Martin Leigh

Son/Brother - Josh Keeble

Emma - Maria Louis

Elizabeth, the social worker - Lindsay Ashford

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