Kev Fegan: four plays on the stage in one month | Steve Orme Productions
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Kev Fegan: four plays on the stage in one month

Submitted by on December 18, 2017 – 10:32 amNo Comment

Kev Fegan (photo: Hannah Fox)

He’s written more than 50 plays including one about Barack Obama’s brother and he was responsible for getting Deirdre Barlow out of jail in Coronation Street. Now Derbyshire playwright and poet Kev Fegan has a busy month even by his own prolific standards, with no fewer than four plays all coming to the stage.

One of Derbyshire’s most famous women Bess of Hardwick will be put under the spotlight and another premiere is a site-specific play at a railway museum near Chesterfield which features “the nation’s favourite locomotive” the Flying Scotsman.

So how does a Shirebrook-born lad who was brought up in Mansfield manage to have four plays on the go at the same time? Kev puts it down to coincidence.

“You’re always developing work, so things are usually at different stages. It just happens that this year they’re all being produced in September.

“It’s not easy when I want to be in all four rehearsals. I enjoy rehearsals and I’m good at being a team player in terms of getting the best for a production. But I can’t physically be in four places at once so I’ve got to work out who needs me most and respond to that.”

Bess will be a one-woman show mixing theatre with film. Playing Bess is Michelle Todd who was in the same class as Kev at junior school. She lives in Canada but was visiting her mum in Sutton-in-Ashfield when Kev’s name cropped up.

When she came over here again she met Kev for the first time in 50 years. She said she had always wanted to do a show about Bess of Hardwick and gave him a book about the woman who was married four times and rose to the highest levels of English nobility.

Bess“I read the book and immediately knew this is a great story. There’s real drama here. So then we set about trying to make it happen. I managed to get funding from First Art who are the Arts Council organisation for North Notts and North Derbyshire and they commissioned it.”

Kev, who speaks quietly with a reasonably strong local accent, feels that writing a one-woman play is no different from writing for a full cast –it’s just a different challenge.

“All drama is storytelling but you really have to be inventive with how you tell the story when you’ve only got one live performer. Although there’s only Michelle on stage playing Bess, there are other characters who appear in her story but they’re on film.

“Three of her four husbands appear on screen along with two imaginary characters who are in Bess’s head.

Only a week before Bess has its premiere, Kev’s community play Down The Line will be staged at Barrow Hill Roundhouse railway museum at Chesterfield.

Before he put pen to paper he was told the museum could probably get the Flying Scotsman, so Kev has written it into the play and admits that it’s “a bit of a coup”.

“There’ll also be 40-odd actors, a community choir and Ireland Colliery Chesterfield Brass Band. It’s going to be quite a spectacular show.

Layout 1“The play starts in roughly the 1840s, the dawn of the railway age in this area. One of the scenes early on is a steam engine coming towards the villagers. What interests me is that they will never have seen a steam engine before and what that must have been like.

“I’m interested in ordinary people who would look at it and think ‘what is that? How is it moving? Where are the horses?’ You can have a lot of fun with that.”

Kev’s other two plays this month are The Shed Crew, an adaptation of Bernard Hare’s book about feral inner-city kids, which will be staged in Leeds, and The Ruck, a touring show about a girls’ rugby league team.

He actually went to Australia on tour with the Batley Bulldogs girls’ team to research the play in the same way that he went to Nairobi to meet George Hussein Obama, half-brother of the former US president, before writing his acclaimed play Obama – The Mamba.

“I think if you’re going to take a subject on, in order to do your best you need to understand it. You have to work out what your perspective is on it and how you want to treat it as a play.

“All plays have to work as an entertainment first and foremost. But I want it to be more than that. As a punter, when I go to see shows I want things that work on different levels. I suppose that’s what you try to write, something that you would enjoy yourself as a theatregoer.”

Kevin Fegan was born on 25 July 1957. As a child he had a lot of energy and was impatient to find out what he was good at.

He says when he was 15 he had an epiphany. “I kicked off in loads of different ways and on one of those days I took a pen and, like a lot of adolescents, just wrote what was in my head.

“It’s a long apprenticeship . . . slowly moving from selling something to being paid to write. That’s a big transition.”

“Out came this poem and as soon as I wrote it I thought ‘this is what I’m looking for – it feels a lot better than anything I’ve done up to this point.’

“It’s a long apprenticeship, seeing if you’re any good, practising and then slowly moving from selling something to being paid to write. That’s a big transition. It takes a long time.”

He admits –without a hint of conceit – that he was good at passing exams. So he went to Manchester University to study English literature and philosophy.

In his final year at uni he saw an advert calling for new plays to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His “abstract” play The Leather Rat was accepted.

Kevin Fegan stern“Seeing that show performed gave me confidence. It made me think: ‘yeah, I can do this and I do want to do this’.”

After university he realised he was not going to make money from writing immediately so he did labouring and driving jobs to pay the bills “and then wrote like a maniac in the evening”.

Now the man described by one magazine as “Britain’s most innovative playwright” has lost count of the number of plays he has written.

As well as stage work he has penned seven plays for BBC Radio 4, published ten books of poetry and worked as a storyline writer for Coronation Street. In a matter-of-fact way he reveals he came up with the storyline that ended with Deirdre Barlow being released from prison after wrongly being convicted of fraud.

Kev worked on the soap for about six months. “I can remember really struggling to pay the bills and feed my kids. I wrote round all the soaps asking if there was any work going.”

The executive producer of Coronation Street took him on but after a while said to Kev, “your heart’s not really in this, is it?”

Kev admitted he was doing it for the money and they parted company.

“I knew I didn’t just want to be a TV writer – it would drive me crazy. In theatre things tend to get made. In TV and especially in film, so much gets commissioned and never made.”

For more than 30 years Kev has been commissioned to write. In fact if he has an idea for a play but can’t get funding for it, he simply won’t write it.

“I’ve got ideas that I’m chasing and we’ll have to see if they come to fruition.”

But he is so well-known now that people often approach him with ideas, believing he is the right writer for a particular project.

As for the future, Kev is hoping that Bess will tour, hopefully starting with a week at Hardwick Hall in the autumn next year. He also wants to take it to Canada. Apart from that, he doesn’t know what’s in store, apart from pursuing more work.

“I’ve got ideas that I’m chasing and we’ll have to see if they come to fruition.”

Somehow I don’t think Kev Fegan will have to chase too hard for his next success.

 This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of Country Images magazine

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