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Frozen Peas in an Old Can: A play that challenges preconceptions about homelessness in Manchester

The arts scene in Manchester may still be in shock at the closure of the Oldham Coliseum and many would prefer a different funding mechanism.

But there is still denying that this city inspires others to follow in their footsteps.

Playwright and actor Joseph Walsh recalls being snuck into JB Shorts – the annual theatre binge fest, where audiences watch 6 short plays of different genres by different writers and directors.

It had such a positive impact on him that he has since become an actor and writer. His latest play Frozen Peas in an Old Can opens next week at the Way Theatre in Leigh.

We caught up with him to find out more.

Can you tell us a bit about the play?

Frozen Peas in an Old Can is about the unlikely friendship of Sarah, Derek and Barney who all live on the streets of Manchester together.

The show looks at the different paths that brought them here, and how they react when suddenly their day-to-day lives are drastically changed in one moment.
I know it probably sounds a bit doom and gloom, but I promise it’s not. It’s funny (hopefully anyway!), the characters are charming and there are lots of good laughs! Audiences can even join in with a bit of a sing-song!

How did you get into playwriting?

I started going to local acting classes as a kid, I was about 7. An actor called Will Travis (who is actually in this play!) taught me and made me realise how passionate I was about theatre, not only being on stage but all the parts that go on behind the scenes to make it happen. I’d get snuck into shows like JB Shorts back when it was in Joshua Brooks in a tiny room above a bar, and I was well too young to be in there, but I got to see loads of new writing and pieces that I still bang on about today! From there I kept trying to watch as much theatre as I could. I was dying to write something but was well too nervous to, but then Will gave me a date and said to write a play by then and you can put it on in the theatre he runs. So, I did! I got a play on and then I just kept going with it!

How difficult is it to get a play like this onto the stage?

I’ve been properly lucky to get arts council funding for the show which means I can think about stuff like actual set and sound design and try and be more ambitious! But it’s not always like that, and sometimes it is a struggle to get your work seen. But there are lots of supportive individuals, organisations and theatres out there in the Northwest that can help out, even if it’s just having a read of your work and offering some feedback. It all helps! I know networking probably helps as well but I’m rubbish at that and I end up hiding in a corner!

What do you want audiences to take away from this piece?

I guess just a simple thing like smiling or saying hello to someone who may be living on the streets. This small gesture goes a long way. There are so many preconceptions and stereotypes about the homeless community and hopefully, the play can do a little bit to break them.

Do you prefer frozen or tinned Peas?

Ha! Great question. I guess frozen because if you bang your knee or burn your finger, tinned peas are no help!

What do you love about Manchester?

The people! There are some proper characters about. You could sit on a tram for 20 minutes, take it all in and end up with a new idea for a play by the time you get to Deansgate.

What would you change about the city and why?

I would love to see more theatre venues pop up around Greater Manchester! It’s rubbish that we have lost the Oldham Coliseum and I think it’s a reminder of how important theatre is in northern, working-class communities. I also think the big-name theatres that are about in Manchester should take more risks and support even more local emerging writers. I get it’s hard to do when getting people into theatres is already understandably tough during a cost-of-living crisis, but if the Royal Court didn’t put new work on, then we might not have had the likes of Simon Stephens and Jim Cartwright. So showcasing more new writing would be amazing! Also, the weather could be a bit nicer sometimes!

Why would you recommend that audiences come and see Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can?

It’s a good laugh! You get to visit a brand-new fringe venue in Greater Manchester. The cast is brilliant, and we’ve got a mix of established performers such as Kyle Rowe who was recently in Let the Right One In at the Royal Exchange, and Will Travis who is known for roles in Where the Heart Is, Coronation Street and This Is England, and also exciting, emerging talent like Lula Marsh and Hope Yolanda who are both gonna be huge soon!

It’s also affordable, and if anyone wants to come but may be struggling a bit financially at the moment there are unwaged tickets available for every show.

We are also raising money for the brilliant organisation Homeless Aid UK during the run.

Frozen Peas in an Old Can is at the Way Theatre, Leigh Spinners Mill from 3rd – 7th May and can be booked here.

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