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Jim Cartwright - Raz

A night on the town isn't what it once was. Just ask Jim Cartwright, the author of Road and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, whose brand new play, Raz, opens at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Raz is a solo piece which, as the title suggests, charts one wild weekend in the life of a twenty-first century dead-end kid called Shane. As Shane moves from bar to bar, the Friday night carnage grows increasingly grotesque until only the morning after and what Cartwright calls “the battlefield of the dawn,” awash with “ambulances and cops and people lying on the floor, crying at the moon” awaits in a frontline portrait of a generation in freefall.

“It's about one night in broken Britain,” Cartwright explains in a Bolton accent which, aged fifty-seven, sounds Coronation Street cosy. “We've all seen the scene on a Friday or Saturday once the pubs and clubs have shut, girls with their legs akimbo sitting on the kerb, boys all pissed up and spoiling for a fight, and it makes you wonder what that's all about.

“This is a chance to get inside all that through one man's journey,” Cartwright continues. “One thing that strikes me is that there's this whole generation now, who aren't on the dole, they're working, but they never manage to earn enough to move out of home. They're still living in their mum and dad's back bedroom and they can't get out. They're millionaires at the weekend, but they're a lost generation going round in circles.”

In this respect Raz isn't that far from the booze-soaked neighbours in Road, which announced Cartwright's arrival at the Royal Court in London in 1986. Along with the Alan Clark directed TV version a year later that featured Jane Horrocks, Lesley Sharp and David Thewlis in the cast, Road's depiction of a community riven by the effects of unemployment in Thatcher's Britain but who could find solace from Otis Redding's version of Try A Little Tenderness set the tone for the in-yer-face years to come.

Cartwright's depiction of working class people finding release through alcohol and song recalls both a scene in Terence Davies' film, Distant Voices, Still Lives and the bar-room optimism of Chumbawamba's late 1ate 1990s crossover hit, Tubthumping. Cartwright points too to a scene in Willy Russell's play, Educating Rita, in which Russell's eponymous hairdresser heroine returns to her old stomping ground after finding liberation through an Open University course.

Like Rita, Cartwright is a back street autodidact whose destiny looked set to remain in a variety of warehouse and factory jobs until, already married and with a baby son in tow, moved to London. He lived what he calls “for want of a better word a bohemian lifestyle,” performing potted versions of Psycho in peoples houses with an ad hoc guerilla theatre company he formed after drama school.

Scraps of a script that went on to become Road were passed on to Antonia Bird, who was then running the Royal Court Upstairs, and Cartwright was commissioned to write a full script. Only after he'd done a runner with the commission money was Cartwright forced to come up with the goods.

“I was on the dole and was skint,” he says now, “and all the stuff that was in Road, I was in the middle of all that.”

Cartwright has previously described what happened to his career as a result of Road as being like winning the pools. It was his 1992 vehicle for Jane Horrocks, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, however, that put Cartwright into mass consciousness. Little Voice, as it was later filmed, told the story of a painfully shy young woman who could only fully express herself through singing the songs of Shirley Bassey and other showbiz greats. With music something transcendent in both Road and Little Voice, its not entirely a surprise to learn that Cartwright is currently writing a play for the Young Vic about Northern Soul.

“Northern Soul is like a religion for some people,” he says. “It provides a real sense of salvation. There have been a few plays about Northern Soul, but I'm looking at it from the point of view of people in their fifties. I've been doing research at some of the weekenders, and there are kids there and people in their seventies, people who work all week and then stay up all weekend.”

Such a notion is similarly embraced in Raz by Shane, played in Edinburgh by Cartwright's son, James Cartwright, who embarked on an acting career aged sixteen, since when he's appeared in The Archers, The History Boys and Hollyoaks.

“We're like Steptoe and Son,” Cartwright jokes. “I like working with him, because he gets my stuff, and he started acting on his own when he was sixteen. At school he'd always get to play Jesus in the nativity play. He didn't need my help.”

Even so, Cartwright junior is living through exactly the same times as Shane.

“Yeah, but it's a bit different because he's an actor,” his old man points out. “He's on the edge of society in a different way, but he's still a young man living through all this, and his generation and Shane's generation are thinking 'What about us? Who's talking to us?', and there's no-one.

“Our generation, my generation, did better than our mums and dads, but that's stopped now. This generation are probably the first generation who are doing worse than their parents. They can't build a life like we could. In working class culture you were all set up. You left school, got a job, at some point you got a girlfriend, got married and settled down just like your mum and dad did, but that's all gone.

“All that seems to happen now is the government trying to legislate against them having a good time. They've gone back to being the lower classes so this new generation let it all out at the weekend, and if they didn't they might let it off in other ways. They're young people who aren't being allowed to express themselves, and I'd do the same. I'd get off my head.”

Raz, Assembly George Square, Aug 6-31, 4-5pm.
www.assemblyfestival.com

The Herald, August 21st 2015

ends

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