When he lived in London, writer Jeff Young vowed he’d never return to Liverpool.
But that was then, and this is now. And after more than five years re-rooted in his home city he’s not just back but, in his words “back for ever”.
So why the 180?
“I don’t know,” he laughs. “Accidents, you know. Just walking around thinking ‘God this feels good’. It feels right. I came back, and fairly quickly started getting work, particularly here with the Everyman.”
Sitting in the new bar at the new Everyman, the writer has taken a break from rehearsals on his ‘epic, poetic’ new play Bright Phoenix, which receives its premiere at the theatre next month.
“I’m in the middle of slightly panicky rewrites,” he reveals. “It was finished, but after a week’s work on it, you think OK, that needs fixing, that needs fixing….It’s a collective piece of work.
“You can’t tell in isolation. It’s when you’ve got 20 people in the room and you’re getting 20 people’s responses and reactions to it and you hear it coming out of actors’ mouths, then you find out a lot of the work is still to be done.”
The idea for the Bright Phoenix, billed by the theatre as ‘a wild play about the carnival of the city at night’, has been gestating for a long time.
“It comes from my love/hate relationship with the city,” he explains. “It’s those kind of things that have eaten away at me for years and decades. It all ties in with leaving Liverpool and returning, and then every time you do go away and you come back, you just see it in a completely different light don’t you?”
What Jeff sees is what he describes as the ‘hidden’ city populated by ‘a gang of rebel kids that don’t fit in’.
“I’m interested in the people in the shadows and margins and always have been, ever since I was a kid,” he says. “And I’m interested in the overlooked. It’s the same as the buildings really. The overlooked and the forgotten.
“There are amazing people in the margins, and it’s a shame to ignore them. A lot of the time we do ignore them because it’s easier.”
The buildings which are, he believes, also overlooked in the fast-regenerating former Capital of Culture include the fantastic Futurist in Lime Street – a landmark which meant a lot to both Jeff’s mum and dad during their ‘courting’ years, and their own son when he was growing up.
“The Futurist has been falling to pieces for a very long time now,” he points out. “But that was one of the things I really did notice moving back, walking around Liverpool and seeing the contrast between the new and the neglected, and feeling sorrow, feeling sorry for a building.”
As for the characters that populate Bright Phoenix – and who are realised by a cast that includes Paul Duckworth and Cathy Tyson – they are “my kind of people” he laughs. In fact, there’s a little bit of Jeff in each of them.
“I’ve shared it out,” he laughs. “I’ve given the anger to one, and the romance to another.”
The writer, who currently has a Radio 4 series set in Mexico on the backburner until the play is premiered, adds: “They’re disobedient and unruly and they like it that way. We meet them when they’re kids, up to all kinds of adventures, and one of the things they do is bunk in to the Futurist to watch films.
“Twenty years later, when they all come back together, they break back in and they try and bring the building back to life.
“We’re trying to make the auditorium look like ruins. And the building will be a musical instrument as well.”
Bright Phoenix is at the Everyman from October 3-25.
Interview taken from the Liverpool Echo 22 September 2014
Article by Catherine Jones