Memoirs of an (ex)Northerner

Writer, performer and co-founder of First Draft, Sonia Jalaly, blogs about bringing her solo show, Happy Birthday Without You, back to Manchester next week, and the perils of being a Manc in exile…

I talk about Manchester a lot. I talk about my friends, my family, the price of a pint, the number of Greggs’ on every street, the met (the metro or if you’re an arsehole ‘the tram’), the Magic Bus lady, Market Dave, playing water roulette in the fountains in Piccadilly Gardens, the spicy wonder that is the curry mile, The Number 1 Chinese Buffet, everything that has ever happened on Canal Street ever and the legendry old man that wears a shell suit and breakdances next to buskers outside the Arndale Centre. My God. I flipping love it.

Market Dave. Altrincham's number 1 hero.

Market Dave. Altrincham’s number 1 hero.

I also enjoy having a good old laugh at its occasional endearing incompetence. Musing on the absolute pointlessness of Urbis, pointing and laughing in Altrincham’s general direction (I can say that, it’s where I’m from) and forever marveling at the impressively poor level of service the Metrolink manages to deliver year after year after year. But if anyone ever dared say a bad word about that city I would literally staple them to the front of the Printworks and throw sausage rolls at them.

I live in London. The city I moved to for drama school and have ended up staying and setting up a theatre company in. The city where the majority of my friends live and unfortunately the majority of the work I am interested in is.  The city where I pay half my wages to live in a mezzanine above a kitchen with a wall made of blankets that I can’t stand up in. No wonder Didsbury and it’s high ceilinged, four walled, affordable bedrooms look appealing.



Sorry, one moment while I just remove these rose tinted glasses and get over myself.

Ok. It’s possible that if I moved back home I’d feel equally unsettled. It’s possible I’d remember, like many of my friends who have done the same thing, ‘Oh yeah this is what it feels like to live here. We don’t sit around watching cheaper theatre and drinking cheaper pints all day everyday. We work. Like we do in London. And then we go home and watch Netflix because we’re tired and skint here too.’ It’s very possible.

Two things happened this week that spurred on these locational doubts:

Firstly I was on Ideastap (which often results in stress) and I stumbled upon an article called ‘22 things you don’t want to hear about working in the arts’ and being in my usual sadomasochistic mood, I opened the link. I skimmed the article, not really taking it in, until number 20 hit a nerve.

The arts are depressingly London-centric. Either fight it – do something amazing where you are – or move here. They are, literally, your only choices.’

Had I decided on the ‘move here’ option? Had I decided against the ‘do something amazing’ option? I almost went straight to my Ideastap about me section and changed it to HELLO I AM A MASSIVE SELL OUT.

The second thing that happened was the Arts Council England NPO announcement. This is basically a list of Arts organisations that are going to be funded over the next four years by ACE. Lyn Gardner pointed out that ‘of the 58 arts organisations that were unsuccessful in their applications, 43 of them are from outside London.’ That’s a shame. And when you filter the report to just look at the London region (which I eventually had to stop people at work doing so I could see what was going on at home) you realise just how little difference it makes. That’s a shame too. ACE North do brilliant work investing in grassroots organisations and emerging artists but when you realise that this year’s NPO announcement has demonstrated only a 2% geographical shift, it is disappointing. You wonder, by staying London, are you just feeding into it?

Next week I will be bringing my solo show to the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, a brilliant organization run by Lisa Connor that really invests time, effort and money into it’s carefully programmed productions. I am so excited to be returning to Manchester with work that began in the Northern Quarter, grew in Kilburn and will end god knows where. I hope this is how I will make work until I am ready to move back fully. Until then I will continue to put The Royle Family on while I nap so I can be soothed by those dead nice northern accents.

Happy Birthday Without You Manchester

Happy Birthday Without You

Presented by PaperMash Theatre for the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival

Violet Fox is an award winning live and visual spoken word vegan solo artist and occasional collaborator. Today is a celebrations of every birthday. And you’re invited. Bring beer and bunting and come on a journey through Violet’s childhood of pop tarts, Patti Smith and second hand smoke. In ‘Happy Birthday Without You’ Violet tells the story of her complicated relationship with her mother through a series of birthday anecdotes, musical interludes and cake. Warning: people usually cry.

Book your tickets here

Links and stuff

Read Sonia’s blog about bringing an earlier version of the show to our Next Draft events earlier this year

Follow Sonia, Papermash Theatre, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival and First Draft on Twitter

Watch the Happy Birthday Without You trailer:


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