Map Productions, 53Two and Oldham Coliseum
24-26 September 2019; 2hr 15min
Ironic, really: the main character in this tragi-comic northern story is being turfed out of her home just as 53Two, which co-produces it, is being turfed out of its own in central Manchester.
But ironies aside, Tinned Up – now around nine years old – is a story with elements that have repeated time and again over the past 50 years. A community, in this case Langworthy, Salford, that was once strong is being broken up by the march of "progress" – just as accurately described as redeveloping land and making a fortune at the expense of the current incumbents.
Shirley Parkin (the brilliant Karen Henthorn) is the last resident of a street of tinned-up houses and is on the verge of eviction. Threats from the council, bribes of nice new homes and better-than-average money for the house she has always lived in count for nothing. She's going nowhere.
And though she isn't alone in her last stand, Shirley's supporters – surrogate grandson Daz (Keaton Lansley), lifelong friend Beryl (Lynn Roden), old friend and now councillor Bill (Steve Garti), and younger locals Joy (Liz Simmons) and Sue (Amy Drake) – have all moved away from the immediate area and in Shirley's eyes have sold out, having promised years earlier to hold on like her.
Shirley's motive isn't entirely stubborn: she holds an irrational idea that one day the man who abandoned her will return and not be able to find her if she moves.
But as the day of eviction comes and one by one her friends accept she is moving whether she likes it or not, their party in her honour, their inappropriate levity and their obvious resignation make Shirley more and more depressed. The play ends satisfyingly tragically, in the only way it reasonably can.
Which makes all this sound like a dour, depressing night of confrontation and misery. Far from it. Author Chris Hoyle (writer of the critically-acclaimed The Newspaper Boy) has an obvious affection for his subject and ear for down-to-earth dialogue. These spawn a sort of cross between any number of Sixties social-conscience movies and early Ealing comedies - you know, those in which a group of ordinary folk put one over on the authorities with great humour and salt-of-the-earth energy. Except here they don't...
Hoyle avoids the obvious points of confrontation and raised voices – no protest scenes, no dragging-out and no chaining to railings – and instead has Shirley and Beryl dancing away her last night in the house at full volume.
This isn't just a play about the loss of a way of life but about the people living the life. Shirley's relationship with the young Daz is surprisingly touching, for instance, and her scenes just talking to her friends, especially Beryl, are heartwarmingly funny and human, made more so by the terrific performance of the rightly much-admired Henthorn and her colleagues.
You might accuse Hoyle and director Simon Naylor of being a little maudlin in the final scene, but what leads up to it is rough, ready and a strongly-performed night of tragi-comic theatre.
The Coliseum's Main House Takeover continues on Friday with two more short former fringe-originated dramas, Clouds & Men Chase Women Choose.