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Red Ladder Theatre Company’s Rod Dixon: “Touring companies can entice people back into the theatre to enjoy shows with a strong local relevance.”

Guest blog by Rod Dixon

For fifty-three years, Red Ladder has taken real stories of struggle and transformed them into theatre shows. Our productions typically blend comedy and live music with politics and debate while avoiding polemic and finger wagging. We make plays that invite you to lean in, identify, punch the air, laugh with the stranger next to you, cry in the dark, and want to take action.

Rod Dixon, artistic director Red Ladder

Rod Dixon, artistic director Red Ladder

Homebaked – The Musical is a typical example of this. Our new show, which we are making in partnership with Liverpool’s Royal Court, is based on the true story behind the city’s famous bakery. Seeing their streets being demolished and their neighbours facing evictions from property developers and landlords, a group of local people in Anfield fought back by forming a community land trust that managed to buy the last remaining terrace and the neighbourhood bakery.

Nine years later, the community-run bakery sells high quality bread and pies with names like the Scouse Pie and The Shankly. The profits of this community-run business are being ploughed back into the community in order to refurbish a whole terrace of houses which will then be available for locals to rent at very affordable rates. This is the complete antithesis of the kinds of gentrification of an area which is happening in most major cities.

 The story behind the Homebaked bakery and Community Land Trust is incredibly inspiring; a real show of working-class resilience, pride and the power of people pulling together and refusing to bow down to bullies. It is a perfect material on which to create a new musical: the underdog rising up and using new skills to grow and thrive.

Boff Whalley and Rod Dixon, Homebaked - The Musical

Boff Whalley and Rod Dixon, Homebaked – The Musical

Written by Boff Whalley, who was a founder member of the band Chumbawamba, Homebaked – The Musical is stuffed full of catchy songs, spirited characters, and has all the promise of a Liverpudlian Made in Dagenham or Billy Elliot.

Everyone is getting cramp as we cross our fingers with the announcement of Homebaked. Like all of our colleague in the arts we’ve had a very challenging year which has included postponing two tours of new plays to theatres and our Red Ladder Local circuit of community venues.

After a whole year of stand-still in the theatre industry many theatre buildings have a back-log of projects which they have postponed. The log-jam puts pressure on everybody, but it particularly places touring companies such as ourselves in danger of being squeezed out of programmes. A close partnership between touring companies and buildings is vital if theatre is to continue to broaden its audience reach and wonderful variety of offer.

Royal Court Liverpool shares our enthusiasm for this new project; As a co-production, it is a match made in heaven. The Red Ladder audience is very similar to the regular attendees at the Royal Court, bringing in people who maybe don’t identify as typical theatre-goers, but who love a noisy, fun night out, oiled by a pint or three.

On announcing the news that we are creating Homebaked – The Musical, we received an incredible show of support. Appropriately for a show about a bakery, the tickets are selling like hot cakes. It’s proof that there is appetite for this true-life story of hard graft, hope and pies, and for theatre after this challenging year.

It will take several years to overcome the effects of the pandemic lockdown but touring companies working in partnership with building-based organisations, can entice people back into the theatre to enjoy shows with a strong local relevance.