Today we’re joined by the Writer and Director of Heroes, a dramatic, coming-of-age, tearjerking piece from Working Class voices landing at VAULT Festival. The story follows 18 year-old Jonno on the cusp of manhood, circling around themes of family, fatherhood and life on a council estate in East London. After runs in Cambridge and at EdFringe, the show now comes to its spiritual home to be performed in London for the first time. We sat down with Chakira Alin, who wrote the piece, and Dixie McDevitt, the show’s Director. Take a read of this interview where we talk role models, familial ties, masculinity and Builder’s Brews.
Catch Heroes from today until the 27th January at 21:25. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Jake: Hey guys, you’ve created a show centring around an 18 year old boy coming face-to-face with “the Dad he’s always wanted”, where did the idea come from and what themes does the show cover?
Chakira: “The idea came from the area I grew up in: East London. I was stuck at home not allowed back at university due to COVID and I really started thinking about the community I’m from more deeply than ever before. There’s often a high proportion of single parent families in low income areas and I was really interested in the psychology of absent fathers. What’s the thinking behind that decision-making? I wanted to unpack that wider sociological phenomenon but through a much more personal story: one boy and his experience. The other arm of the story was inspired by another unfortunately common occurrence in my hometown: knife crime.”
“Thematically, the play explores issues of masculinity and what it means to be a “good man”, Englishness, and the power of community. And of course, the heart of the story is football! I grew up ten minutes away from the West Ham stadium and am a lifelong Hammer because of my own father. When I think of my Dad, football is the first thing I think of. Football is a different kind of theatre – there’s so much emotion involved in it. That was really the driving force behind the birth of the story. Then the other elements fell into place.”
Jake: The show’s central ideas – about role models and familial ties – are deeply personal, how are you hoping the audience feels about the show?
Chakira: “I come from a working class background and never really thought about it until I went to university in Cambridge and suddenly realised how different my upbringing was to my peers’. But instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed as is often the narrative, I felt really proud. I love where I come from and I wanted to show off the beauty of this world to other people. Council estates get a bad rap in the media as a place of lawlessness and violence but there’s so much magic there too and that’s what this play focuses on.”
Jake: “How has the process been of creating the show, and what surprises have you encountered along the way?”
Chakira: “Well firstly, I hope that we draw in a different kind of audience to the usual theatre-going crowd. I want historically underrepresented groups, especially young Black men, to feel seen and heard for once. That’s why I wrote it. And I want the audience to laugh and cry (then laugh again)!”
Dixie: “This is the third iteration of the production, so in one sense the process has been ongoing for a year! But each performance has been dramatically retooled and has incorporated new cast members, so in another sense the process has been only a few weeks. I have tried to invite surprise into the fabric of the play, in that I chose not to ‘block’ the play in a traditional sense, but rather invent rules and games for the actors to stage themselves as an ensemble each performance. This means the show changes with every run! I have never seen the play and not been surprised by a wonderful, creative offer by a cast member. The play breathes in this way, and finds its own personality again and again with every run.”
Jake: Now that we’re gearing up for VAULT Festival 2023, what are you most excited for?
Chakira: “I’m excited for the play to make its London debut because it’s a London story, and of course to see lots of other great shows!”
Jake: “Fitting with the themes of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage (think cocktails, mocktails, shots, beers, be creative!) what would it be?”
Chakira: “Builder’s Brew. A classic.”