#202 Women's Ways, Women's Plays - A story of working class women's theatre

April 05, 2024 FiLiA
#202 Women's Ways, Women's Plays - A story of working class women's theatre
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#202 Women's Ways, Women's Plays - A story of working class women's theatre
Apr 05, 2024

"I just hope that in capturing these stories that we've done something to archive working class, women's experience and that it'll be there if people wanna watch it or read it. We've done our bit and we can use the methods to look at any issue we want" - Paula Boulton

This podcast is about working class women and the theatre women make. It is  a discussion between playwright and theatre director Paula Boulton (67) and three members of her Corby Women's Theatre Group. Betty MacPherson (78) Danijela Bastajic (47) Dannie Smith (39) Questioned by interviewer Jo Campbell they explore the issues raised in their most recent production Corby Women, Then and Now. Reflecting on the need to tell the hidden stories about working class women, how being part of this community project empowered them, and how the method can be used in the future.

The plays are available for others to use in the accompanying book, Women's Ways, Women's Plays.

Paula's book "Women's Ways, Women's Plays is available at all major bookstores
or direct from Paula's bookshop

You can view Paula's plays on her YouTube channel

Show Notes Transcript

"I just hope that in capturing these stories that we've done something to archive working class, women's experience and that it'll be there if people wanna watch it or read it. We've done our bit and we can use the methods to look at any issue we want" - Paula Boulton

This podcast is about working class women and the theatre women make. It is  a discussion between playwright and theatre director Paula Boulton (67) and three members of her Corby Women's Theatre Group. Betty MacPherson (78) Danijela Bastajic (47) Dannie Smith (39) Questioned by interviewer Jo Campbell they explore the issues raised in their most recent production Corby Women, Then and Now. Reflecting on the need to tell the hidden stories about working class women, how being part of this community project empowered them, and how the method can be used in the future.

The plays are available for others to use in the accompanying book, Women's Ways, Women's Plays.

Paula's book "Women's Ways, Women's Plays is available at all major bookstores
or direct from Paula's bookshop

You can view Paula's plays on her YouTube channel

Jo: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this conversation about working class women. The title is Women's Ways, Women's Plays and centres on life for women in Corby through the ages. Welcome to the speakers tonight. Please introduce yourselves. I'll come to you first, Paula. 

Paula: I'm Paula Boulton and Women's Ways, Women's Plays is the story of Corby Women's Theatre Group and I wrote it because I wanted to document the work that I'd done with Corby’s Women’s Group over 20 years and I'd done the same sort of thing for my other theatre group which was a youth theatre group and I'd done that during Covid and it felt like a really good way of collecting together the story, not only of the theatre group, but through the plays, the story of my town of Corby. And I'm a playwright and a musician amongst other things and women's rights and lesbian rights activists. So that's me. 

Jo: And can I come to you next, Dannie? 

Dannie: Hi, I'm Dannie. I'm 39 and I Corby born and bred, working class.

I was part of Corby's Shout Youth Theatre when I was a teenager, and then I also took part in a few plays with Corby Women's Theatre when I was a little bit older, and it was really nice to go over a lot of the old material with some new faces as well, so that was nice. Oh, also I am a design technology teacher.

Yeah, that's about it. Oh, and a mother of three. Thank you. 

Jo: And can I come to you now, Betty? Yes, yes. Hi, 

Betty: I'm Betty McPherson. I've been in Corby for about 60 years and I had three children married. I'm now retired and I've been in a few Paula's plays. And that's it. 

Jo: Okay, and Danijela, please. 

Danijela: Hello, my name is Danijela and I'm 18 years.

I live in UK. And I met Paula, I really can say, 16 years ago. And I did join to the Corby Theatre Women's Group straight away in Labour Club. And I'm a mother of three kids. And I work on R. S. all these years. Same place. That's me, and I'm 47. 

Jo: Thank you very much. That's wonderful. We've got you all now, and I'd like to talk about coming to the play, because for me, my introduction, it's in four parts.

I would like to talk about the first part, which is about three young lasses. navigating their way around body image, pregnancy, and dating. And so I suppose, for you, Dannie, being the youngest member of the group, and you were involved in that part, would you like to speak about how that became a piece? What was your participation in that?

As a group of young women discussing those issues, what did it bring up for you? 

Dannie: Those three monologues were extracts from a play that as youngsters, we devised ourselves. We tended to sort of improvise, but then we would go and do a bit of research about the issue that we were doing a play about. In that case, it was teenage pregnancy.

It was sexuality, I'd say, navigating the world of sex. And we sort of made it up as we went along, but then documented it and then looked back and then improved it as we went, that's kind of how we devised our theatre pieces back in Shouty Theatre. But it was to look back at the way that we used to use language back then compared to how I would now as an adult.

Yeah, that was a shock to the system. But it was also really good fun to look back at it and then to try and play a teenager convincingly that because Teenagers now, I don't think act like I did as a teenager. The girls we had involved in Women's Ways, Women's Plays, that was, they were so mature compared to me.

I thought I was mature at the time, but I wasn't. I was loud mouthed and I had an attitude and didn't know when to shut my mouth, but they were all so well behaved. Maybe that's because they had their teacher with them, I don't know. 

Jo: That's brilliant. 

Paula: Can I just come in there to say that the thing that you're referring to is the first of the four plays in the book, which is called Our Bodies, Ourselves.

And although the bit that you picked up on was that opening scene with the three girls, our bodies ourselves, for those that are, I'm 67, Betty, we didn't say how old you were. 

Betty: 79 next month. 

 Paula: For women my age anyway, they'll recognize the title, Our Bodies Ourselves, because it came from the Boston Women's Health Collective, Health Bible at the time.

And when we decided we were going to use Our Bodies, Ourselves together, I asked them for permission to use that title for the play. And one of the things that we did in it is we looked at body image. We looked at the pressures of the fashion industry. And when I took, as part of this project from which this all comes, I was taking the plays into schools.

And these 14 year olds that I was working with in a local academy had exactly the same body issues that we all talked about in the play back in 2002 when we first performed it. And so for them, it really, it was really good because it highlighted that nothing's changed. It's intensified. I know it wasn't lip fillers, boob jobs, and what have you back then. We had other pressures, but they really recognized that something was the same. And so to introduce the concept of sexism to them, and that there is a system going on here that permanently affects women, was really useful. And the play that Danny was on about, we called it the Teenage Pregnancy Play. When we first wrote it, we researched it amongst girls in the group.

Like, around the year 2000 is when we did it, and actually one of the stories was of, in fact, they all were, it was all the Dannys, Danny. She says. We have three Dannys in the group and we used their real life stories, including a girl who did get pregnant, a 14-year-old who was with a 19-year-old. And that brought up the topic of statutory rape and all of that sort of stuff.

There were real life issues that were affecting the girls in the group. And the first version of it was me at Danny’s age. playing a 15-year-old. So I have, we've never said this, Danny, I know exactly how you feel. And what we did is, me and the other woman that used to run the group, we took the play, Two Shouts, And said, thank you for your research.

This is what we've made of it. And they said, why are you pretending to talk about 15 year olds? Why don't you be them? You are actresses after all. And the pressure was on to dress up and be a 15-year-old. It's very hard. And I did not have a seven-month old baby at the time, which I believe you did Danny.

Dannie: Yeah, trying to breastfeed like either side of rehearsals and the show was a bit of a mission, but we managed. 

Jo: Good on you. That's amazing. But, and that just goes to show you just how much we think as teenagers, we know so much we're so certain about, but then we become adults and we look back at our younger selves and go, Oh my God.

Adolescence isn't it? That's growing up. It's part of the process. Yeah. Thank you for that contribution. It's like knowing that we had such a thriving women's and girls’ service in the past where you could go for information about contraception and pregnancy testing and all that in a respectful way in that it was a way that they weren't going to tell your doctor, they weren't going to tell your mum or your auntie down the street.

Do you think that sort of thing exists now, or do you think it ought to exist if it doesn't? I'm going back to Dannie because she's probably, again, the youngest, but that's a question open to all of you, but I'll come to you first, Dannie. 

Dannie: I found out I was pregnant with my son Max at the Women's Centre in Corby.

And that was a bit of a shock to the system. It was all good. We were all happy. But the fact that, and when I was there and I had, there was a lovely lady there who was very supportive. She said, you don't have to decide anything right now. If you want to talk, we've got counselling service. You can come in. You can talk to us. We can discuss your options. And there was no judgment. There was no, these are your options. This is what you've got to decide. It was like, you can come in. We can talk about this when it's all sunk in. So supportive. And that was fantastic. And they don't have anything like that now.

It's not like you have that sort of welcoming vibe with your doctor because it's very clinical, isn't it? That's their job. They've got to leave it like that. But the counselling and the support that you got along with sometimes quite shocking news. 

No, I don't think the youth of today, or the women, not just the youth, the women today have that.

Because not everyone's got a close knit family and friends unit to lean on in that kind of situation. I think it is needed.

Paula:  It's interesting, Dannie, because obviously me and my sister started the Women's Centre in 1986 and we, and it was there for 20 years and we actually, I know it closed because I know when it closed and why it closed and it was to do with funding, but during that time we managed to lobby and get teenage pregnancy contraceptive advice in all the schools and it wasn't until this play, working again with these 14 year olds, and I said to them, where would you go now? What's the clinic called here in the school? Because one of them was called Time for Me and Change Your Life. And they had all these bespoke facilities, but in each school, they haven't got it and it has gone. And of course, it's academisation that's done it. So those girls that we were working with hadn't a clue where they would go.

So it's actually, it has gone backwards, and so much they don't even know what a Women's Centre is. 

Dannie: I work in a school and we have nothing available, the young ladies, and it's quite distressing because what are they going to do this day and age? They're going to turn to the internet. And that is full of lies and hatred and trolling and all sorts of things that you want to avoid.

You want the facts to be given to these young ladies and they can find all sorts of rubbish on there. They can go down a rabbit hole of hatred. It could spiral and it's not good. 

Jo: Yeah, the internet, the font of all knowledge and stuff, but also the biggest harbour of disinformation you could ever find.

And this is why we need close up personal services where you've got women that are invested in these kids, teenager’s lives. We're real human beings, we're not just a Google search. 

Paula: I'm just wondering, Betty, obviously, we're all talking about this as if it was like a recent phenomenon. How did you go and get pregnancy tests, or did you just know?

Betty: No, I just guessed and couldn't believe it. 

Because I just kissed him and he said you got pregnant if you kissed him. In the beginning. In the beginning. No, I ended up, yeah, pregnant and I was I felt like the scum of the earth. And I wasn't. I know that now. And I was so ashamed. But we got married and, but my dad, oh my goodness, you'd have thought, you'd have thought I'd went with every man in Corby instead of just the one.

I think nowadays parents accept it a lot better. I like to think that. Because if it was my kids, there's no way I'd turn my back on them. My dad flung me out that night. 

Paula: Did he? Was that like a shotgun wedding thing in the end as well then or what? 

Betty: No, I've been gone nearly five years. I know I was 15 and we got married when I was 20.

But I wouldn't say it was a shotgun wedding. We were getting married, but I just happened to get married a wee bit quicker. My dad did come round in the end. 

 Jo: That is quite astonishing still to me, that you were a wee lassie. You were 15, I've got thoughts around that, but I'll not bring them here tonight because I'll try and stay on track. But, would you have known of anywhere to go had you not wanted to carry his baby? 

Betty: No. I wouldn't have had a clue. And do you know what? I was so shy. I'd think entirely different now, but I was so shy. I probably wouldn't have went. That's how shy and sheltered I was. I was 16 before I knew where a baby came from. And I come from a big family. I thought your belly button opened up. I found out when I was 21 it didn't open up. 

Dannie: No sex education at all. Sorry, Betty, how far along were you before you found out you were pregnant then? 

Betty: Just three months. I just knew. And not only that, I fell out with him and told him where to go. I had to meet him one night and I burst out crying and told him I'm pregnant. He said, that's alright, we'll get married, good. So we were back again. 

Paula: Oh my gosh. Danijela, I know this, we've gone off topic, but it was a big theme in the play. How was it within your world when you got pregnant? 

Danijela: How is it going?

In Serbia it's now, the things are really changed now, but when I, let's say, 20 years ago, when I get married, and by the way, it's still ongoing, but that is something traditional, what we've been teaching, like, Christians, because I'm Christian, what they says, first you need to get married, and then you can stay pregnant.

If that happens again, before you marry, then of course you get married and then the baby and everything. So it's something like program, when I stay pregnant, okay, I married first and then I stayed pregnant. And it doesn't matter, I've been 29 years old, but I feel a little bit shy like I did, I do something.

Oh my God. But everything was okay. I did say everyone I'm pregnant and they says, okay, finally we did expect that. And then after first one, the second one, then third one, then after third one, they says, okay, are you going to stop now.

But it is in my country in Serbia. If you stay pregnant with your boyfriend or a husband or whatever, that is really something shame how they describe that. I don't gonna say I don't agree with that, but I think that is the, for me, the good example for the good family. Maybe I got different opinion about everything. that's just my opinion about that. 

Jo: Let's say, it's like, the shame is on the woman, but not the man who leaves. 

Danijela: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That is it. Because they think that that is, the woman is something wrong what she done, and they are always right. Which is wrong, of course. 

Paula: Yeah. Just moving from Our Bodies, Ourselves, because I know, because we'll, we will get stuck in these things.

So Our Bodies, Ourselves was put together whilst we were researching for the Women of Steel play. And I'd basically, been to the chain makers festival in, in the West Country and in West Midlands. And Tony Benn had been speaking at this rally and he started talking about the strikes and he was on about the miner’s strike and the dockers strike.

And I was like at the back going ‘and the steel strike’, because for anybody listening to this, who doesn't know Corby had the biggest steel works in Europe at one point. And we had a strike in 1979 to 1980 and the town really suffered through that. And I just thought, we're not even going to be remembered in working class history.

If Tony Benn isn't mentioning us, that's really not okay. So I was quite, upset by that really. And I thought something needs to be done. And at the same time, a group of us had done Vagina Monologues and we'd done it twice in a row. And the women really enjoyed performing in Vagina Monologues because it was a women only experience.

So they were basically saying, Oh, Paula, can't we stick together? And I was thinking, yeah, but we're not doing Vagina Monologues again, surely. And Marie from Dundee, and she said not to put too fine a point on it. We're more than a vagina. Can't we do a play of our own about bodies and that's how Our Bodies Ourselves happened and at the same time I'd said Let's keep together but would you lot help me do this play about the steelworks because if we try to write a play about the steelworks It will be really dry and dusty and boring.

But if we do it as a bunch of women telling it from the women's point of view, we might humanize the story. And that's how Women of Steel was born. And I managed to get the Workers Educational Association to pay me to teach a course which put together called Creating a Community Drama. And if you remember, Betty, because you were in that lot, I was teaching you lot how to do the Documentary drama research, remember, because I'd been trained with Banner Theatre, which is a trade union based political theatre company, so I was using their methodology and going out and making sure that all of the material was based on real people, and that the language used in the play were the words of the people.

It's not a playwright thinking, oh, this is the sort of thing they might say. It's not that. It's actually using your own words. You were one of the interviewers. Can you remember going and interviewing someone for Women of Steel? 

Betty: I do. An ex steelworker. Yeah. And he told me a story how he came to Corby.

He'd left Glasgow looking for work. And when he came down here, he got the job and got his name down for a house. Then he sent for his wife and his family. to come down here. Then his wife got a job as a cleaner in the works. To them, the works was fantastic. It was just fantastic. Gave them a new life. And they stayed here to the end of their lives.

Paula: Yeah, and the works, for those that don't know, the works means the Corby Steelworks. I'm taken for granted. Everybody knows what the works is. But yeah, so that's how we did, that's how Women of Steel came to be. So back to you, Jo.

Jo: The part two of this, and that I have, is the Women of Steel, and it's my first question to you, Paula, is How long did it take you to practice being Thatcher?

Paula: It's funny, I was talking about this just before we started with Betty and she said, what did you say? Did you have any time to practice? 

Betty: Yeah, she was so busy I couldn't believe it. I think she'd just run in the dressing room table, plonk this stupid hat and this costume and come out full of herself. 

Jo: To be honest, if I may interject, I just think that Thatcher was such a caricature of a figure It was so easy, everybody from the spitting image, everybody just took the mickey.

So it wasn't difficult to mimic Thatcher, but I think Paula did a sterling representation. The voice, the head gestures. Anyway, I'm going to move on now. Thatcher was amongst other things. a divisive figure. 

How did her policies impact on the sense of solidarity when she took apart your industry in Corby?

What was the feeling at the time? 

Paula: The word straight away is solidarity. When you think of the big marches, you know that picture that we've got of the massive rally and all the banners. Can you remember the food parcels at the Labour Club? 

Tell us about that.

Jo: This is what strikes me, is this thing called solidarity, that some people don't actually know what that means. It's a word, and it means you generally support something. But solidarity is so much deeper. It's your nuts and bolts, it's the depth of your daily life. And I want to know how that changed

when they came in and started shutting down the steelworks, I know there were strikes, I know there was opposition, but for women, it's like, what did you do when your dads and your brothers and your husbands and your nephews were, because they were the primarily employed, but also women were employed, but what did that do?

What did that do to your sense of solidarity within your community at the time? 

Paula: I think it was this thing about making it firmer because you all had to stand together. 

Tell us about the food parcels at the labour club for a start. 

Betty: My husband had left the works so we weren't so bad. He worked in the railways but we also helped our family that had been in the works.

And for some reason in these food parcels, what I remember is people were saying, I don't want that or I don't need that. Do you want that? But something sticks in my mind. I don't know where they got all these tins of condensed milk from. Because everybody you knew had condensed milk and they said, do you want condensed milk? So I think they must've got a factory load of condensed milk, more than anything! I always remember people saying, do you want some condensed milk? 

Jo: it's like, there's something hearty about a can of condensed milk, for some reason. You can do so much with it. 

Betty: you can put it in your tea.

But that thing about sharing, a community who have nothing, what you do when you have nothing, is you share nothing. over. 

Dannie: My nanny used to make a Scottish tablet out of condensed milk. Yeah, that as well. 

Betty: Yeah. Yeah. 

Jo: Energy means you, you survive and that's what that is about.

Betty: Also, you made a fantastic, I still make it to this day, fruit cake with a tin of condensed milk, no sugar, just the condensed milk. And it's fabulous. Whenever I make it, I give it to my friend. I wish I hadn't started; it's cost me a fortune. You've seen the price of condensed milk, open up the labour club.

Jo: Do you know what, you might have a wee cottage industry waiting to arise.

Betty: I could do with this particular cake and it's so easy to make. 

Paula: Dannie, I know your family were affected by the steelworks, weren't they? 

Dannie: Yeah, I wasn't quite born yet, but yeah, my grandad worked in the works, but when they closed down, by the time they'd closed down, before the strikes, he'd swapped over to work for an agency, but still for the steelworks.

So when everyone got their redundancies, he didn't get anything. So when everyone else had their redundancy money and bought extra houses or bought their house, some bought two, some people bought taxis. They had absolutely nothing. He was on his bicycle riding around the industrial states every single morning trying to get work because he had five daughters to feed and just my Nana's cleaning wage coming in.

So obviously trying to make ends meet was really difficult for them. Eventually he did get work. His sister was a cleaner in the Weetabix factory and they got him in there eventually because he had to know somebody to get in because the jobs were just so hard to come by. Everybody needed one. 

Paula: It's interesting. One of the actual monologues that we had in the play was looking at, exactly what you said, Jo, about the solidarity and the way the place was affected. Four years on and wherever we got to, men at home watching TV or down the pub, being expected to adapt to making the dinner instead of making steel, self-esteem gone.

Their role is breadwinner, provider, man, changed forever. Whilst we women work all the hours that God sends for some cowboy firm who'll just up sticks and move when their subsidy has run out. Jobs for women are plenty. The boss gets away with part time hours and pays us less. Any hint of union organisation and we're out the door and none of us will fight it because we're too desperate to hold down the job.

So I think in that little paragraph, that's what was going on. Would you agree, Betty? 

Betty - I think so, yeah. Yeah, I think you're right. 

Jo: Yeah, I was going to come to what happened when the steel works were done, when they were closed down and the men folk didn't have anywhere to be or do. And what were the women left to do?

And what were the opportunities? How did you survive? It's incredible because you still have mouths to feed. You have to clothe your children; you have to keep a roof. 

Paula: That's what that monologue's about there, because there were lots and lots of jobs, but one of the best bits that we did in the play was that one of the factories, Corby Clothing Factory, remember you come in and you say, I've just seen the lads taking the machinery. That scene. That was a true story. There was a factory and these women had been made redundant three or four times because these firms would just move on. They would use the subsidy, and then they'd move on. And the women in Corby at the Corby clothing factory said, no, we're going to have a sit in.

And they got the managing director, turfed him out and they had a sit in. And they actually took over the factory. There's a brilliant photo, which shows you them with a cardboard sign on the outside. This factory is in the control of the workers. And they did, and they slept on the shop floor. under the big sewing machines and what have you.

And what was great about the way these plays work in our community, I found a photo in the Evening Telegraph, which is our local newspaper at the time of those women standing with their arms folded, looking really strong. And we put it in the paper and said, do any of you know any of these women? And they all got in touch and they got a free ticket to come to the show.

But there they were watching their story being played out by other women, so we were capturing the history and retelling it, and it was a great way of bringing them all back together, it's great. Tabards, Jo. 

Jo: Yeah, don't get me started. Look, forgive me, I've never done an interview like this before, so I have to refer, I want to give everybody enough space. I have to refer to my structure of the interview. Ah, yeah. Woman in a Tabard. Actually. Have you ever heard Woman in a Tabard, have you any of you ever heard that song? It was part of the Big Breakfast show, which I think was in the early to mid-nineties. and I watched once a few days ago. And I thought, I didn't know whether it was celebratory or derogatory. I couldn't quite figure it out. And, but the thing that spurred me on to actually think about that was part of the play, which was the women, the working class women in their tabards, because it's like women dressed down, or working class women dressed down to go to work. We don't dress up.

 It's like a tabard is an intrinsic marker of your working status. It's like you have a tabard to protect your ordinary clothes and you have a little pocket that's got everything available to you like cloths and sponges and scrubbing brushes and all that in your pouch, we're like kangaroos anyway.

Betty: But it saved your clothes getting bleach marks on them. 

Jo: It was practical. We are practical and it's reflected. It's that we don't dress up to go to work like some people do, polish their shoes and iron their shirts, trot off to the office, working class women or working class people, but more so working class women have tabards and there is a clip online and I show whether it was taking the piss or being celebratory.

It was back in the 90s, and it was a bit like, not quite sure what that, but they have this song, Woman in a Tabard, Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah, and the only thing that came to mind the other day was like, Oh, Woman in a Tabard, Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah, is the tradition of working class communities in the brass bands.

And it was like, oh! And it just struck a chord. And maybe I'm just marrying two things together that don't fit. 

Paula: The thing about the tabards, Jo, which is really funny. When we were trying to get a few costumes together for the play that we've just done, I thought I had all the costumes in my garage going back 20 years, but I could not for the life of me find the four red tabards for you lot to wear.

So I asked around, and I've got a friend at the moment who's a cleaner. She had a couple of blue ones. We sent off for one from Amazon and somebody else brought one in. But can you remember Lorraine put it on back to front? You had to tell her, didn't you?

Betty: Yeah, obviously she'd never worn one before. She thought the pocket was at the back.

I had experience, I knew where it went at the front. 

Dannie: Yeah, because you knew where it went, didn't you? 

Jo: No, no use for a pocket at the back, I'll tell you now. 

Paula: I thought that clip that you showed me, I thought it was quite offensive really. It felt like taking the piss and there's a bit in the book that I would like Betty to read actually because there's this lovely moment during Covid and we were clapping for the key workers, and there was suddenly an acknowledgement that the people doing the ‘shit jobs’, and I say that in inverted commas, that the country couldn't run without key workers, and it was only a brief moment in time because it's disappeared again.

Dannie: Yeah, they don't deserve a pay rise, do they?

Paula: That's right, they don't deserve a pay rise, they just deserve for you to clap for them. But there's this lovely bit in, in one of the plays, which if Betty could read it. 

Betty: Yeah. This is my dad. He walked down from Glasgow in the 30s, and they believe in industrial militancy on the Scots, but that's not Scots, it's workers.

It says in there, this was a diary I'm talking about, about a big strike back in 1911 at the New Blast Furnace over the right to join a union. Mind you, depends what side you're on, as always. The men tell it as a struggle for better paying conditions, how they formed a union and then got told by Mr Lloyd that they had to choose, the union or their job.

The Vicar's Wife thought differently. There's always been a split though, us and them. But where would the world be without us labourers, the weavers, the navvies, the brickies, the ironworkers, the stewards, and us cleaners, the people that build the world that the rich folk rule?

Jo: That's it. That's marvellous.

That's really where it's at, isn't it? That's the reality. 

Dannie: There's something I remember from Women of Steel. It was a story of some women from the steelworks, and you say that women would dress down to go to work, but these women refused to wear some of their PPE because they didn't think it made them look very nice, and they ended up with singed eyebrows and all sorts.

Paula: That's true. You're right, that they were the women that were actually marking the red hot steel as it came out. And they ended up having to wear a cap to protect their eyes. They weren't stylish enough, you see.

Jo: I would say that was an error of judgment because I'm a great proponent of sensible, but you know, just going, Oh no, I don't want to wear that because it's uncomfortable, blah, blah, blah, and putting yourself at risk.

It was women doing what was considered manual work, wasn't it? It was male. But what it is, is that it's also a case of toughing it out. We think we're immortal. We think we're tough. We think we can do it. We roll our sleeves up and we get involved. We don't always do it carefully and health and safety regulations have come a long way.

Paula: There's just one more thing about the clothing. This thing about dressing down. I was saying to Betty about you, you had to dress as a cleaner. And was that the case? 

Betty: When I was 21 and started cleaning the works, I was one of the youngest at that time. And I went to work with a pair of trousers on. And I got really told off, and was told I had to wear a skirt.

Now the skirts were short then, and I had to clean a flight of steep stairs, and there was men below. And the next day I had to go to work with a skirt, scrubbing these stairs, told off for wearing trousers. And it took a long time before they got used to the idea of the women wearing trousers. 

Paula: Ah, there you go. There's still that battle isn't there? 

Jo: We now want to move on. 

Paula: The third part we haven't done about her and migration and Serbia woman. 

Jo: So actually this is probably more to do with you Danijela, is how you came to be in Corby, how, what your ambitions were before you came to Corby and just how you integrated and how you feel about that.

I know that's a big question. 

Danijela: It is a big question, but the answer is simple. I'm just falling in love. 

Jo: Ah, that old chestnut. 

Danijela: You know what I want to say, when you're falling in love, you're just blind. You don't know what you're gonna expect. You expect actually everything, but it's not like that. Anyway, just, maybe I'm just joking a little bit, but what I expect when I hear that I will come in here, marry here, start, everything is new.

You So now I can tell you too much things, but 20 years ago, I really didn't think about that. Honestly. Now, when I'm thinking about everything, I just says, how can I leave my country, my friends, my mum, my family, everything, where I was born and everything, just because I get married now, but when on that time, I'm just being like, okay, I'm get married and start a new life.

And we just. That's me. I don't know. I did accept everything here because I know that's my new life, my new adventure, and that's me. I find the work. First we go some, you need to wait a couple years to get the paper, passport, and everything so you get the right for work. And then it was like the first child, the second one, the third one.

In meantime, I start working and everything just roll on. 

Jo: Okay. So, is there anything in your past experience of being in Serbia that connects in the way with Corby or is it completely different? And is theatre your passion? where was your passion? How is your passion? 

Danijela:  by the way, I did finish my education like a landscape designer.

But all the time I really think to coming to be actor. Yeah. Instead of opera singer, my passion to the theatre and everything, it's just. I like to things to do the acting, theatre, everything like that. I don't know am I telling you the right answer what you ask me, but I just try the right answer.

Jo: There is no right answer, it's your experience. Just to express where you were, how you are here, how you are involved in this project. 

Paula: And I would say how I met Danijela - 

Danijela: yeah, I just want to mention that one. 

Paula: Because when we were doing About Her, I needed to find women from the different communities because Corby used to have a lot of, we were one in five of the residents were Scottish because I've already, Betty's mentioned, people came down from Glasgow in the thirties for the steelworks and Danny's family originated in Ireland.

There's a lot of Scottish and Irish people in the town. 

Dannie: Mums are from Ireland. My dads, my stepdads are from Scotland.

Paula:  There you go, that mixture. But then in 2004, when the EU expanded, we had a lot of different people come in to Corby from the different Eastern European countries particularly.

But we'd always had Serbians in Corby. and Latvians going back because we had a camp for displaced persons just outside Corby. So we've always had Eastern Europeans in this area and there's an old Serbian church in Corby that's been there for forever. It's been a long time, hasn't it, Danijela? 

Danijela: It's nearly 60 years now, yeah.

By the way, Sorry, that church been built, so from, didn't be like already existent, so they bought, they bought land.

Paula: So, there's a building opposite that, where there was a group for newly arrived, people from different countries and to bring their children to a special under five centre called Pen Green and I had connections there from the women's centre and I asked if I could meet with those women from different countries and there was the fabulous Danijela.

That was the first interview and I've not let go of her ever since. This fabulous landscape designer who should have been an opera singer. 

Danijela: Opera singer, please! 

By the way, can I ask, sorry, can I ask, where are you, Jo, where you are from? Are you living in Corby?

Jo: No, originally from Bradford in West Yorkshire.

Danijela: Ah, okay, now. 

Jo: I live in Manchester, but when we're talking about industries, Bradford, which is now one of the poorest cities in the country, used to be the biggest, most thriving, wealthy city during the times of the Industrial Revolution, when we had much more textiles and manufacturing because the Industrial Revolution began in the north or northwest of England.

And if you were a mill owner, you were making a lot of money. And we have these traditions. And what we had was massive growth in these areas where you had skills, mills, or minerals, how I like to talk about it. If you were rich in coal, it was a mining industry. If you were rich in machinery for steam, working in the mills and the factory, actually in from 1850 onwards in the north of England.

But in the same way, coming back to Corby, it is, you were existing on a sole industry, industry of steel. And, and once they shut that down, they disabled a whole community. And I want to go back to my notes now because we've all been a bit around the houses.

You're from Perth. 

Betty: Sorry, I am from Perth. 

Jo: How did you actually come to Corby and what's your experience?

Betty: My dad worked in the railways in Perth and he got made redundant, so my father and his two brother in laws, they all come down to Corby, got jobs, but my dad was the only one that lasted. The other two come back to Perth and eventually my dad sent for us, but we had to live in a caravan for a year before we got a house.

Then when we did, Mum got a lovely four bedroomed house and she worked in a crisp factory. And it was great. We had a lovely house and my dad was earning some money, so we were a bit better off than we had been in Perth, though we missed Perth terrible. But do you know what got us through it? Was everybody was so friendly because all families, wives, husbands, they were on their own and away from all their families.

So I think that's what made Corby friendly. They'd all talk to each other, go for cups of tea, because there was nothing, they didn't have it much. So when I think the friendships lasted for years and years. In fact, after my mum died, 20 years later, a lady stopped me, she said, I still miss your mum. That's how great the friendships got.

So Corby was a good place for us. We made a lot of friends. 

Jo: And there's no such thing as more solidarity as communities. 

Betty: Oh, you're right. I've got great memories of being young in Corby. 

The Son of Democracy is still here. I am a member of the Grampian and the Irish Centre. And New Year at the Grampian is quite a spectacle.

We've got the little Highland dancers, we've got the pipers, we've got the drummers, everyone's together with their families until a bit later when the kids have got to go. Right, everyone has a lovely drink, they're all singing, they're all dancing, it's great. And the Irish Centre, next Sunday on Paddy's day will be quite similar, but the Irish version.

we still have that community spirit here. My nan and dad have been members of the Irish Centre since it started, I do believe. They go to the Pensioners Club, which they call the Young at Heart Club, you're not allowed to call them old age pensioners. 

Honestly, they're living their best life. They go on trips with them all, they've got loads of fun. They go to their little club there every Wednesday afternoon, they play bingo, they have raffles, they have such a laugh, they all keep in touch. They're the best of friends and they've known each other for years.

Paula: There you go, community in Corby. And that's what a lot of the plays have all been based around, the community, and performed for the community. 

Jo: And my next question, theatre as a vehicle, how it's made you integrate or how it's integrated you into an expression, also how that expression goes out into the world.

What do you feel the value of that work is? Is it personal hobby? Is it really important to you that the message goes out? Because we've got loads of examples of working class stories going mainstream, but on a personal note, I want to know what theatre and enacting part and playing yourself, just being authentic.

What does that mean to you? 

Paula: I'd like to start answering that with the fact that the reason for doing these plays, really, was becoming famous or being acknowledged or recognized. It was always that, that I knew that working class people's lives go undocumented and that our stories are as valid as anybody else's and that this is a great way of doing it.

I think I am fortunate to be one of the only playwrights that could say that all 50 odd of my plays have all been performed. And that's because they were written to be performed. They weren't written to go in a book for people to talk about in years to come. They were written because that aspect of community life needed to be shared.

There always been an audience. I think you've all been in plays. We always had an audience, didn't we? Whatever theatre. And it meant something to that audience. My question always is, would it have meant something if somebody had come from outside? Are these only relevant to the people of Corby?

And somebody said recently, Paula, Women of Steel, you should go and perform it in Port Talbot. Tata Steel is closing there. And I don't know if it would. And I actually don't actually, I don't have the desire to do that because there's enough people here who need our stories told. So it is for us, and I'd love other people to see things, which is why we've put them online so people can see them.

But essentially, it's been a way of giving people their stories back and saying, you matter. Because you do. Your stories matter. So for me that's what it's about. What's it been about for you, Dannie? 

Dannie: The majority of the plays that we've done it's been in education. I've always learnt something along the way.

Every day's a school day, but it's empowering to be able to tell other people's stories, not just our own. And a lot of the issues from the ones we did back in the day are still issues now. And the fact that, as Jo pointed out there's even less support for the women, the young women today than what I had a few years ago.

I won't say how many, but that's not fair. So there is still a, a fight to be fought. There is still a message to get out there and say, Hey, let's fix this. And I think theatre is a fantastic way of getting your voice heard. 

Paula: What about you, Betty? 

Betty: Talking about theatre, I think every school should have drama lessons because I was always very shy.

And I ended up joining, meeting up with Paula through my daughter. She taught me to go and I popped along. Before I knew it, she had me in a play. I was absolutely terrified, but Paula's got a gift of bringing out, I think, the best in you. She can maybe see something in you that you don't see yourself. So it boosted my confidence.

As scared as I was after I'd done it, being on stage, I thought, I can't believe I've done that. So for me, it was brilliant. Boosted my confidence. Mind you, the next play I was still just terrified, but never mind. And then, you know, I think she brings the best out in us all, especially in the women as steel.

That was my favourite. 

Danijela: Exactly. Like I said, you just feel stronger. You get the power, you get the, I don't know, you're just feeling like more confident for everything what you do. I'm really shy because of my language. I don't want to say I'm perfect now, but I'm much, much better than I was when I came here.

But definitely just your wellbeing is coming really up and you feel you can do, just feeling you can do something where you never didn't think you can done. You know what I mean? Especially when you go in the theatre. Even you don't see the people in the front of you, but when the light's coming up, oh my god, and I done, I did it.

So just that the power, it's coming up.

Jo: that's super, that is, that's what theatre is about, isn't it? The power of expression is beautiful. Love it. 

Dannie: I especially love it when I make someone cry in the audience. I know that sounds evil, but I know that means that they felt what I was trying to put out there.

They got that, they got me so much that they had that much emotion that they cried. I'm like, yes! 

Jo: And this is it. This is the beauty of performance and if you're performing your real selves, we can all go to the cinema and watch a film that's orchestrated by other people and put together and it can yank at your heart, yank at your tears.

The beauty of what you've done is it's your story. It's your story. It's absolutely about you, and women like you. And if that's a tearjerker, or a triumph story, or whatever. And I think it's all of those things. 

Paula: The word that is used most often when I've heard people talking about it actually, is ‘authentic.’

That's the word. I was just thinking about the having a voice and which I'm interested in this answer. So in the play that we've just done, what was the moment when you felt you had the biggest voice in the play we've just done? 

Danijela: My play, Dannie's play, you're probably on that time when you're talking your one, your things.

Paula: I can see an image in my head of you, Dannie, with your arms out. Yeah, singing. When she starts singing, 

Danijela: Yeah, I can say yes. 

Dannie: When I was singing as one of the suffragettes, I feel like there is so much work for us women to make the world a more fairer place for women today. There's so much more to do. Yes, we can vote. Okay, whoop dee doo. There's more to do. There are women in America who are not able to choose what to do with their own bodies. 

That's disgusting. That should not be happening. Ireland, come on. There's so much more to do. Yeah, that's my answer. 

Paula: That's the bit I remember because it was a fabulous bit of staging, even though I say so in myself as the director.

But the thing is, the way this play had to be rehearsed, you can't do it like you used to in the olden days. And because you're using, essentially, volunteers, Nobody's paid to do this. So you've all had to find time in your very busy lives between the breastfeeding, between the teaching, between the cleaning, between the watching your grandkids, between the going to work.

Nobody has got the same overlap bit of time free. So even finding time for the whole cast to be together happened once before we did the play, and that was when that little bit walked on at the end. Until that moment, we hadn't all been in the same space. So I've actually designed a new form of directing, which is directing by text, by phone, by email, by, you name it, whenever you're available, can I have ten minutes of your time, and I'll make sure you know your part.

And then it's all together in my head as a load of beads to put on a necklace. And so I never see it until you all see it and actually you're not seeing it because you're facing me and as a director I'm watching you and then on the screen behind you is the visual script because one thing I don't know Jo, it's obvious in what you've watched, but every play we've ever done has had a visual script in the background.

So this moment I can see is a picture of the Manchester Community Choir at the opening of the Emmeline Pankhurst statue and there was her granddaughter there and the sculptor and that was on the screen behind and the whole cast came on stage and dressed as members of this choir, and then Dannie sang the solo at the front.

So there was like, it looked as if there were about 60 women on stage, because the women on the screen looked as if they were standing on the balcony and then you lot were standing below them, and it was a hugely powerful moment. And then you all sang Nana was a Suffragette, and those 14-year-old girls loved that song.

When I taught them it at school, they were clicking away and they were really getting excited about it. And at that moment, during the workshop, the headmistress came in and I thought, Oh, I'm done for now. Here I am indoctrinating her students and she'll get really cross. But what she did, is she said, Oh, the suffragettes.

She said, I do reenactments about the suffragettes. I'll have to bring my badge in. I actually played the part of a suffragist. She said, and off she went. If we're bold and we take our things into schools and stuff, it's surprising who comes forward, really. It was a great moment that. 

Jo: How did you all feel at the end of the play when the little girl came on and played the Ukrainian national anthem.

Dannie: Struggled to hold the tears back. She was, she played beautiful, beautifully. She looked beautiful. It was really just. It was amazing. 

Betty: Yeah, very emotional, wasn't it? 

Danijela: I just want to say they're really emotional at the moment, really, especially the people who got any kind of background of the war experience or anything.

Paula: Yeah, that's true because the other thing is, of course, just to bring this up to a contemporary thing when we did the play in October. It was October the 20th, I think it wasn't it 21st, the 21st local birthday, only two weeks after the assault in Israel. That that when that situation kicked off because you were in tears.

I was tears because I thought we could stop with Ukraine. We'd remembered all of the other wars as part of the heritage play. And there we were gonna say, and now Corby has always welcomed people that have been fleeing war, refugees, migrant workers, and now we've welcomed the Ukrainian community. And then the little nine-year-old came on and played the Ukrainian national anthem.

And that would be it. But oh no, now we've got Israel has been attacked and then of course since then the retaliation has been escalated to this absolutely horrendous situation. 

Jo: I would like to talk to you a little bit about the fourth stage of the play, which is about heritage. Where did that come from? What was the prompt of a heritage thing? Because we all know, we don't always know, it's only when we see clearly that women are never represented and our histories are not recorded. The fourth part to me, when I was watching the plays, was the only person recording life was the vicar's wife. So what was it actually really like for working class women and so I'm going to ask Paula where that came from. 

Paula: It's quite simple because Women in Steel had done the history from the 30s, there was a project called Our Corby and I was approached to write a play about Corby in 1911. And I thought, I can't do that because there's no one to interview. They're all dead. 

I didn't know how to do it because that's not my process, is it? So, what they said is, and it has to be based on this, and they gave me the Seaborne archive collection of photographs. And in that selection, there was this amazing picture of the women in the First World War working in the ironworks.

They were called the crackers, and they used to break up the slag with pickaxes, and I just thought, oh, wait a minute, this is amazing. So it started there, and it meant that I had to ask the question that you've just put so well, Joe, which is, who's recording what? And because women's tradition has always been oral. It's not written down. 

There's a bit that you do, Betty, isn't there, with the diaries? Because the only diary I could find to find out what went on then was the vicar's wife, and like you say, she's seeing it a different way. There's this little speech. You want to read it, Betty? 

Betty: I wonder what it was really like will we ever know?

 I suppose we all need to use our imagination. This diary is handy. No one would be interested in mine. Not even Rupert Murdoch. Monday, cleaned the toilet. Tuesday, went to bingo. Wednesday, took my mum for a radiotherapy. Nothing done. 

 And that's, to me, all we've got is those diary extracts.

We've got books that are written, but they're written from an academic perspective. So unless we carry on telling these stories, we're not ever going to know what went on, which is why I carry on doing it. That's where that came from, Jo. 

that stuck with me, and it's absolutely poignant, and I wonder where we're going from here.

What is the current and future recording of Corby gonna be? It's, because it, we're in it every minute of the day. We are history one second ago. Everything is history, but who's recording? And I think, Performance pieces, like in theatre, whether it's music, whether it's theatre, are profound messages. They're profound ways of messaging across generations to convey this is where you come from. This is, I think this is massive, it's a human need. No matter where you're born on this planet, it's like we all need to know where we come from. We kind of wonder why we're here and we have various weird differentiations on that.

But we're here nevertheless. And we have to make sense of it somehow. Recording our history, herstory, is absolutely invaluable. Absolutely invaluable to give us a location point in life. And a sense of belonging as well, without getting too romantic about it. But absolutely all those things. 

Paula: Thank you Jo for teasing all that out of us.

I think we've covered most of the plays. and how it affected us all and that it is useful to use as a tool, isn't it, to, to record our lives and to tell the stories. Just to finish off, what I would like to just hear from each one of you before we just finish is what your favourite moment has been being involved in Corby Women's Theatre Group.

That's how I'd like us to finish. 

Betty: Well, who's first? 

Paula: You can go if you've got one ready. 

Betty: When you say favourite moment, there's lots of favourite moments, but one moment that stands out in my mind is: when we done Women of Steel in East Carleton Park, in the big marquee, there was a barbecue party next door. I think it was you, Jan, telling your story about the terrible marriage, the abusive husband you had, the terrible life you had, and everybody's feeling sorry for you, and suddenly, this music blasts out, Stand by your Man. Do you remember it? And everybody in the marquee burst out laughing because telling the story of this terrible husband, the horrible life you had. And this song's booming out, Stand by Your Man. You had to be there to get that. Do you remember it, Paula? 

Paula: I do remember, yeah. 

Betty: There was Everybody! And then for you to carry on your part, tell this story, and everybody laugh, that just stands out my mind. What about you, Danijela? 

Danijela: I'm just, I'm thinking, I'm still thinking.

I can't say this one, I really don't know which one was the favourite one. 

Paula: Just pick one of them, then. 

Danijela: Okay, let's gonna say the last one on the play. When I talk about the cabbage diet when Dannie says, when she reading that about the early pregnancy, the teenage pregnancy. And when you actually can hear when somebody start crying in the audience.

That is what I want to say. That is the same. When I say that about the cabbage diet soup, cabbage soup diet. Again, I miss it. And then they start laughing, when they start laughing, that is actually what we're expecting to happen. Yeah, so, I will say that is one of the favourite ones on the last one, but it is, it's too much of it.

When we made that picture all together, like this, with the hands. 

Paula: Oh yeah, the physical theatre bit and the breast cancer piece. 

Danijela: Yes, I don't know, I really can't say, Everything, every moment is actually the favourite one. 

Paula: Dannie, what was yours? 

Dannie: I made Paula cry. Drop the mic

Jo: Mic drop.

Paula: There you go. I just hope that we, in, in capturing these stories that we have, that we've done something to archive working class, women's experience and that it'll be there if people want to watch it or read it. We've done our bit and we can use the methods to look at any issue we want. If anybody wants to know how we do it, then get in touch because we're happy to create new work around different topics.

Thank you, Jo. 

Jo: Oh, no, you're welcome. I don't feel like I've actually participated in an awful lot, but what I would like to end with, if you like, is that nothing would happen without working class women. It just wouldn't. And thank you, all of you. And I think you're fabulous.