Strike support kitchen is the place for strong women

Chicken Soup at Sheffield Theatres.'By Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles''Bryony Shanahan Director'Sophia Simensky Designer'Christopher Worrall Casting Director'Prema Mehta Lighting Designer'Katherine Robson Associate Director'Alexandra Faye Braithwaite Sound Designer And Composer'Natalie Grady Dialect Coach''Cast'Judy Flynn, Jo Hartley, Remmie Milner, Samantha Power and Simone Saunders
Chicken Soup at Sheffield Theatres.'By Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles''Bryony Shanahan Director'Sophia Simensky Designer'Christopher Worrall Casting Director'Prema Mehta Lighting Designer'Katherine Robson Associate Director'Alexandra Faye Braithwaite Sound Designer And Composer'Natalie Grady Dialect Coach''Cast'Judy Flynn, Jo Hartley, Remmie Milner, Samantha Power and Simone Saunders

Director Bryony Shanahan is enjoying a diet of Chicken Soup, telling the story of the women who kept their mining communities going during the 1984-5 strike with food and sheer determination.

Bryony said: “The play is set over three different periods of time. We meet a group of three women in a kitchen in a community centre.

“Every act features the same kitchen and same women.

“The first scene is set during the miners’ strike, days after Orgreave. The women are all miners’ wives and have decided to run a soup kitchen to help their community.

“We next see them in 2002 during the Queen’s golden jubilee and we see how much things have changed for them or not as they’re preparing to host a jubilee celebration.

“Then we move on to 2016 and the day of the Brexit referendum. The soup kitchen is now run as a food bank, helping to feed nurses,

“There’s that same feeling of what’s shifted within that. The strike was the best year of some people’s lives, as well as the worst.

“Politics are underlying the relationships and they’re facing new challenges.

“The play is about friendships, endurance and survival.”

Bryony added: “It’s a really, really lovely bit of writing and a brilliant cast are breathing so much history into it all.

“We know that when the women stayed in those communities, the men had to shift to accommodate their change, which is really great.”

She admitted it was slightly daunting to be directing a play in an area that was central to the miners’ strike and where the Battle of Orgreave took place.

She has worked with one of the writers, Kieran Knowles, before on another locally-based drama, Operation Crucible. That told the story of a group of men trapped in a cellar under the bombed wreckage of the Marples Hotel in Sheffield during the Blitz of December 1940.

“It feels so special to be here, where people have lived it,” said Bryony. “As with Operation Crucible, I would love it if people took it as theirs.

“It doesn’t belong to me or us, it belongs to the audience, would be my ideal reaction to the play. People saying we know and are these women and feel proud of that.”

Chicken Soup arose out of Operation Crucible, said Bryony, when Sheffield actor and writer Ray Castleton came to see the play and approached Kieran with his idea when he spotted him in the bar.

“They got chatting and Ray told him about this story and Kieran said that’s amazing, let’s do it together.

“I heard about the idea all the way through and loved it. I’ve thrown myself into it after getting the first draft of the script.

She added: “It’s such a privilege to be able to tell this story from the women’s perspective.

“It’s an all-woman team apart from the writers, which is unusual.

“We’re on a bit of a journey ourselves.”