YORK writer-director Tom Wilson’s new anarchic farce of council chaos and Covid, The Local Authority, will be premiered at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from August 5 to 7.
“Written some 12 months ago, the play is basically about a local council emergency budget meeting,” says Tom. “It’s very much a black comedy about embezzlement, chaotic dysfunctional individuals and families and a community trying to come to grips with the madness of the pandemic that engulfed us all – and still does – for well over a year.
“Look out for lots of adult themes, such as drug taking and alcoholism, zany sex workers, high-level council corruption, irrational budget and public amenity cuts, disintegrating relationships and canines in nappies.
“Hopefully it will offer people a chance to purge themselves of the intensity that this virus has forced on us all. I’m hoping it will give folk the opportunity to laugh their way out of the doldrums, laughing at their oppressor as they reclaim their smiles and freedom.”
Tom had written one play, set to be premiered at the JoRo until Covic intervened, and then turned all his thoughts instead to creating a rip-roaring comedy for our times in the tradition of Joe Orton. Cue The Local Authority.
In a nutshell, what starts off as a local council emergency budget-cutting meeting on Zoom rapidly descends into an unstructured free-for-all and a chaotic mêlée.
“Eventually, it breaks out into a physical space on stage too,” says Tom. “The story is woven around manager Lesley Carol’s secretive drinking problem and very public fall from grace, and the play gradually reveals most of the participants’ warts and private thoughts.
“After lurid revelations and catastrophic arguments, stories of embezzlement and financial corruption, historic accusations and shocking recriminations, it eventually offers hope for the future and redemption.”
The disintegrating council meeting serves to highlight the confusion and problems faced in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, says Tom. “It shows the damaging misinformation and the scapegoating that was apparent within some circles, and how some parts of the UK had a different attitude and alternative ways they were prepared to try to quell the burgeoning nightmare that was engulfing all of us,” he highlights.
“There are the failed experiments and the inappropriate language that was levelled in some quarters.”
This story is pertinent, suggests Tom, because “we can all so easily forget how reluctant some of us were to believe what was actually happening and comply and do the right thing in order to help and support each other”.
“We forget how selfish and paranoid we can and have been around all this mayhem,” he says. “No-one wanted it, but it not only touched our lives, it pretty much brought our lives and societies to a standstill. Although some of the statements are preposterous and some of the characters are petulant and immature in The Local Authority, isn’t that what we all experienced at different times during this hideous hayride?
“We should all want to remember how this pandemic took a stranglehold of us and how we thought in the beginning: ‘If I ignore it then it will go away. It won’t affect me; it will only affect the others’.”
Tom reflects on his own experiences. “I know I thought that way, until it touched those around me, until it took some around me, and finally until I was in hospital myself having an operation and I inadvertently caught it,” he says.
“While lying in bed one night, after being despatched to the Covid ward, not being able to sleep through sheer fear, I saw people being discreetly inserted into body bags and removed. The next morning their bed and belongings had all mysteriously disappeared, as if by magic. There was no trace that they ever existed at all.”
Looking ahead, Tom predicts: “Once this is all over and the hordes and the masses return to their decadent revelry with much gusto, I’m sure a lot of the darkness and intensity will be minimised and eventually put on the back burners and forgotten.
“Let’s hope that tongue-in-cheek, light-and-shade plays like The Local Authority serve to remind us of our folly and our good fortune to still be here to tell the bleak tale and to offer hope to the despairing.”
Rehearsals have been going well, despite the Covid curse of two cast members having had to self-isolate “due to the pandemic not having a sense of humour” and a late change of casting for the role of Lesley Carol. “But we will be ready on the night,” says Tom. “Tickets are selling, steady away, and we’re all getting mighty excited, like horses in the stalls on Derby Day. A splendiferous time is ‘subject to terms and conditions’ for all!”
Summing up his wishes for the impact of The Local Authority, Tom says: “Sincerely, I hope it will serve as a beacon to highlight the ways in which, for better or worse, society has been irrevocably altered, even scared and left wounded.
“Among the many deeds of goodness and ill carried out in the name of virtue, folly or profit, we are all seeking practical and logistical solutions for a ‘new’, more caring and thoughtful society, engendering universal hope for our shared future.”
Naloxone Theatre Ensemble presents Tom Wilson’s premiere of The Local Authority, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, August 5 to 7, 7.30pm and 2.3p0pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
Did you know?
THE Local Authority will feature music from Tom Wilson’s old band, Scratchings No Gravy, plus songs by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, The Edgar Broughton Band, Earl Bostic, Ry Cooder and Hound Dog Taylor.
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