Olivia Race founded Front Room Productions in 2015 and the company is dedicated to producing intimate theatre where you least expect to find it. In her site-specific approach, she hopes that leading audiences on an interactive journey around familiar locations will allow them to experience these spaces in a new way and engage with theatre on a very personal level. Furthermore, she is immensely proud of her Northern roots, and endeavours to stage productions with Front Room that showcase and celebrate the wealth of talented performers working across the region.

Front Room Productions’ new Hurry Up, Jess, which will be touring Greater Manchester and Yorkshire during March. We spoke to writer and performer Olivia about the premise and what to expect.

How did you come up with the idea for the show?

The show has been in development for some time now. I had just graduated university and life suddenly felt very real and weighty, and I thought back to a time when it was a bit easier, when the smallest thing was a massive deal, but life felt limitless and opportunities were everywhere. That’s why our central character is 17. I wanted to explore those feelings of being completely indestructible and unstoppable, but juxtaposed this with an acknowledgement of the fragility of life. Part of the play is built around truth and real-life personal experiences, and part of the show is fiction. The play took shape within our central character, Liv’s, bedroom, as at that age that’s the one place you have complete ownership over. It’s a treasure chest of your own life and the stories that go with it. It was due to the setting of the bedroom that led us onto wanting to stage the show in real bedrooms, to create a really intimate and personal space to share this story.

What is the premise of the show, without giving any spoilers? How would you describe it in up to 140 characters in a Tweet, and with some hashtags?

An energetic and interactive jaunt through Liv’s bedroom and childhood memories, as she waits for her best friend Jess to arrive #HURRYUPJESS #alwayswaiting

How do you transport theatre to a bedroom in the community? What was the thinking behind holding the show in the unique settings of people’s bedrooms?

To put it simply, I wrote a play set in a bedroom, so that’s where we wanted to stage it. But it goes further than that. We hope the bedroom setting will allow audiences to experience something very unique, and most likely like nothing they’ve ever seen before. By performing the show in a bedroom, we wanted to create an intimate journey around a very personal space that will enable audience members to feel as though they are more than mere spectators, but instead sharing a lived experience. Working in unconventional settings, and especially a setting as personal as a bedroom, allows us to push the boundaries of what theatre is perceived to be. We want to try and engage with people who may never have been to the theatre before; by using a space that is familiar for everyone, we are removing the formalities traditionally associated with going to the theatre, and instead aim to immerse audiences in what feels like a real-life situation.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of a one-woman show?

I’ve never actually performed in a one-woman show before, let alone one that I’ve actually written. It feels very personal, and I guess this could be seen as a challenge and a benefit. It’s the personal engagement with the piece that hopefully will mean the audience share the emotions of Liv. You have no one to ‘save you’ or to bounce off, so a lot of my energy will come from the audience, and hopefully they’ll be onside!

Who do you think the show might appeal to?

We really think young adults the same age as Liv and Jess, and college and university students, will love this show, as well as recent graduates who are able to recognise a lot of the excitement and young energy of Liv, pre-entering the big bad world of ‘adulthood’. And also, parents, particularly parents of teenagers who can identify with their quirks. And ultimately anyone who enjoys something a little bit different, due to our bedroom setting.

Why did you choose Manchester, Salford and Leeds in particular? And why did you pick the specific parts of these cities where the show will be held?

We asked people in our creative circles, and also local theatres and their artistic networks, to put the word out about our bedroom call-out. We wanted to get a wide spread of different locations and different sizes and types of bedroom. As the beauty of the show is that it will be slightly different wherever we go, there will be things that make the show very unique in each bedroom and town and city, and that’s one of the things which is very exciting about the project. We are therefore taking the show to all the people who responded to our call-out, and the audience capacity in each bedroom is dependent on the size of the room.

Will you tour throughout the UK in the future?

We would love for the show to have another life beyond this initial tour. The show has a very strong Northern voice and identity, and it would be great to take that voice to other parts of the UK. But for now, our focus is on the Northern tour, and we shall see where the future takes us.

Hurry Up, Jess will be touring Manchester and Yorkshire during March, with performances in Deansgate on 11 March and Salford on 22 March.

Sadia Habib