Love of drama brings award-winning play to Norfolk

A smash hit at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival, Eastern Angles are bringing their latest production I ? Peterborough to Norfolk. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Fresh from a hugely successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Eastern Angles is bringing the latest drama from prolific Suffolk playwright Joel Horwood to Norfolk.

I ? Peterborough centres on a father and son, both brought up in Peterborough. Trapped in their suburban living room, the two characters form a dysfunctional double-act from Peterborough, a 1960s new town best known for its brickworks and train station.

The play, which is being staged at the newly restored St George's Theatre in Great Yarmouth prior to a run at the Soho Theatre in London, is directed by the playwright himself and Eastern Angles stalwart Ivan Cutting.

Horwood, acclaimed for his work with the Lyric Hammersmith and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, was responsible for the company's 2008 hit I Caught Crabs in Walberswick.

I ? Peterborough is his first outing as a director since his first fantastic success, Mikey, a musical penned in his university years that scooped the Cameron MacIntosh Award at the National Student Drama Festival and went on to a sell-out run on the Edinburgh Fringe.

Inspired by his upbringing — he was born in Halesworth and went to school in Leiston — Joel homes in on the intimacy of relationships, which is often expressed through unusual characters but ultimately explores universal themes.

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The hoodies who populated Mikey, for example, turned out to be just like the rest of us, despite their difficult backgrounds and borderline criminality. But there is a rich, sometimes ferocious, vein of humour running through his work.

The blurb for I ? Peterborough calls it a darkly comic show which takes the form of a 'chaotic cabaret act fronted by Lulu', who has a drag act, accompanied by son Hew on keyboards. Eastern Angles has embraced the play into its repertoire and it is being produced, as you perhaps might expect, in association with Peterborough's Key Theatre. It has changed since its titled was conceived says Joel, who spent a year living in Berlin and has recently been on an artists' retreat in New Hampshire and worked with the National Theatre.

'There's lots about growing up... but it's more about the idea of a regional town. Coming to Peterborough was a massive deal. I drove around cul-de-sacs, getting a bit lost. Anything could be going on behind those curtains.

'Basically I came up here and I had a play in my head that was much more about Leiston, really, and where I grew up. At the end of the original I ? Peterborough workshop we went to a club. It reminded me of travelling up to Ipswich and going to a club — how these clubs have a big catchment area for all the villages around – and it all started to click. The play started to become about these people who go to these clubs.

'It was about talking and gossip. It started to fit together – all moments, images and ideas. It has a lot to do with me.'

It is also, he says, 'like nothing I have written before.' But does Joel know men who dress as women? 'I have several friends who cross dress on occasions.

'They are people who are really trying to take control of their identity; to establish who they are,' he says.

Then: 'I started to think more along the lines of drag.

'This is a regional drag queen and his son. With the son I'm trying to write a character who is coming to terms with it in his own special way.'

Lulu is described as 'a big bloke with a thirty-something son, six-inch heels and a dodgy wig'.

'They are two very odd and delicate characters who really care about each other but are destroying each other at the same time. It's a paternal love story in a maternal costume.'

? I ? Peterborough, St George's Theatre, Great Yarmouth, September 25, 01493 745461,