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Shirleymander, a rehearsed reading - The Playground Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

ON NOVEMBER 30, 2017, The Playground Theatre is staging a rehearsed reading of Gregory Evans’ Shirleymander, a dramatization of the Shirley Porter Westminster Council ‘homes for votes’ scandal of the 1980s.

The reading stars Tracy-Ann Oberman, Patrick Ryecart and Michael Simkins and will be a precursor to a fully-fledged production of the work next summer.

London 1986 – London is in the midst of a housing crisis. Homes stand empty while homelessness soars. Close-knit communities are destroyed for profit. Tory councils are accused of ‘social cleansing’ as families are evicted and forced to move far away or into unsafe flats, whilst affordable homes are sold as investment properties.

Fast-forward thirty years.

Staged in newly opened The Playground Theatre, barely a stone’s throw from Grenfell Tower, Shirleymander tells the story of the central London Council which, thirty years ago, was at the centre of a major scandal.

Westminster Council, under Shirley Porter’s controlling, autocratic style, her boundless energy and vast wealth, was led into a mire of paranoia, fear and skullduggery as it pursued, secret, illegal policies that destroyed communities, reputations, lives, hopes … and finally Porter herself.

Exploring the perennial themes of greed, ambition and the normalisation of corruption, Shirleymander is described as a shocking, funny and at times moving reminder of how it is the weakest who bear the brunt when institutional wrong-doing takes control.

First presented as a radio play in 2009 and inspired by BBC journalist Andrew Hosken’s book Nothing Like A Dame, Gregory Evans’ comedy drama will receive it’s stage premiere at The Playground Theatre from May 22 to June 16, 2018. The production is timed to coincide with the first anniversary of The Grenfell Tower fire.

Casting for the full run will be announced in due course.

Director Anthony Biggs said: “As London’s new neighbourhood theatre, it’s vital we engage with our local community and tell stories that really matter to our audiences. When I first read this gripping play I was blown away by the obvious parallels with the recent events at Grenfell Tower, which stands just a few streets away from the theatre. Shirley Porter’s Westminster Council policies might be the stuff of nightmares, but it’s happening now, right under our noses.”

Also at The Playground Theatre: the world premiere of a new stage production of the much-loved French children’s novella The Little Prince.