Model box of the set of We'll Live and Die in These Towns

Streets on fire: Patrick Connellan on designing We'll Live & Die in These Towns

Posted on 24 July 2018

Following his recent involvement in our Read All About It! project at the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building, designer and regular Belgrade collaborator Patrick Connellan is teaming up with us again to create the designs for our new musical drama We’ll Live and Die in These Towns.

Written by Coventry playwright Geoff Thompson (Fragile, 2012) this gritty and compelling show uses the songs of The Enemy’s number one debut album to tell the story of a young musician named Argy, who suffers a crisis of confidence just before a major homecoming gig. Seeking solace and direction, he travels through the run-down streets of his home city, where encounters with faces and places from his past help him to make important decisions about his future.

With the model box now constructed and casting underway, the show is starting to take shape. Ahead of its world premiere on our B2 Stage 29 September – 20 October, we spoke to Patrick to find out more about the cityscape that he’s developing.

“The set can’t be too specific in terms of describing individual locations because it goes to so many places, from the concert venue, to the streets of Coventry, to his brother’s house and a working men’s club,” he explains. “Some of those locations will be indicated using projection, but the physical set is basically a lot of concrete blocks of varying heights.

“There are 53 blocks in total, and each one is 117cm square, and it’s almost like this journey is a kind of concrete snakes and ladders, as Argy searches for the truth within himself. Hopefully, it will look visually very epic – it is a big, epic story about a working class boy who makes it good and worries about turning his back on his roots. But also, the blocks will match the concrete of the B2 space, so the theatre itself becomes part of the set, if you like.”

Between the blocks will be gaps filled with lights, variously glowing white or red according to the mood of particular scenes. According to Patrick, the red light indicates a kind of “burning passion” in the streets, inspired by The Enemy’s song “Aggro”, with its line about setting the streets on fire.

While The Enemy’s songs might be essential to the storytelling, however, it’s important to emphasise that the band we see on stage is not The Enemy, and that the character of Argy isn’t simply a fictionalised stand-in for frontman Tom Clarke. With this in mind, the setting is very much contemporary – the story is assumed to take place now, rather than at the height of The Enemy’s fame. As Patrick puts it, “It’s not a nostalgic thing.”

This also has the advantage of making it easier to gather photographs and footage for the projection elements, which will be primarily newly taken shots of Coventry. To create them, Patrick is working with digital designer Shanaz Gulzar, who also worked with him on Read All About It! in July.

“The locations are very clearly described in the script so we’re going to go out as soon as we can and take some photographs of some of those run-down elements of Coventry that Geoff has suggested in his writing.

“But there are also moments that are more than just naturalistic descriptions of parts of Coventry. The whole journey Argy goes on has a kind of ethereal, heightened feel to it, which is something that might also be reflected in the images. There’s one particular moment where I think it would be great to get some aerial shots of the Ricoh, if we’re able to do it.”

Sound will also be equally essential to creating the atmosphere for the production, with a full band of actor-musicians on stage and added sound effects helping to create a kind of concert vibe. Extra care has also been taken with the layout of the stage itself, which the Belgrade’s B2 auditorium arranged in a brand new, thrust-style configuration, created especially for this show.

“We did something similar with the original production of One Night in November, but I think it’s really important with this piece in particularly that all the energy of it is thrust right into the audience. Whether they’re singing or acting or playing an instrument, the performers are going to be right in front of you. Especially Argy, who won’t just be confined to the concrete blocks on stage, but will walk around the auditorium with his guitar on his back almost like a sort of troubadour, so we’re using all the space.”

It’s a space that’s very familiar to Patrick, and not only as a result of shows he’s staged there. Having been brought on board as a resident designer to help with the Belgrade’s last big capital development project, which included the construction of B2, there’s an element of his work which is now embedded in the very fabric of the building.

“I think it’s a wonderful space!” he says. “It’s relatively intimate, but there’s also a bit of a contradiction in that the height of it makes it feel very epic at the same time, whch is ideal for this story.”

While he might not be a native Coventrian, it’s fair to say that Patrick’s long history with the Belgrade has also afforded him a familiarity with and fondness for the city as a whole – invaluable in working on a show like this.

“I first came to Coventry in 1985 on an Arts Council bursary for young theatre designers. There were resident designers then, who I assisted on two shows. I had a really great time and loved being here, but I went away thinking I would probably never come back again.

“But when my old friend and colleague Bob Eaton became Artistic Director here I ended up working with him a lot. Eventually, for a short time I was resident designer here, mainly working on the capital development project. Even after I went back to being freelance, I moved to Coventry because I’d fallen in love, and I think I was here for about 15 years.

“So I’m tremendously excited about the City of Culture win, because I think that Coventry deserves it, and I really hope there’ll be a lasting legacy. As it happens, I was quite involved in the City of Culture project in Hull, so I’ve already got some experience of what it can do for a city, and it’s been hugely impressive there.”

We’ll Live and Die in These Towns runs on the Belgrade’s B2 Stage 29 September – 20 October. Tickets are available to book now.