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Two estranged half brothers meet at a truly bizarre shiva… – interview with Amy Lever

Orline Ryler and Mark Patterson in ‘We Wish You Long Life’, credit: Reload Theatre Company

On Sunday, 2 April, Jewish Mancunian actor and writer, Amy Lever, will bring her new play to our former synagogue as part of Synagogue Scratch season. We speak to Amy about “We Wish You Long Life” and the fascinating creative process behind it.

Amy is a Mancunian Jewish actor and writer who recently graduated from the University of Cambridge. She is passionate about telling northern contemporary stories with a Jewish influence as well as incorporating verbatim testimony and interview into a script.

Her first full length play, “Life Before the Line”, won the prestigious Cambridge University Edinburgh Fringe Fund Prize – an award in which one piece of new writing is selected to be fully funded at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “Life Before the Line” went on to receive critical acclaim in Cambridge and at the Edinburgh Fringe, with five-star reviews, sold out performances and a transfer to the Cockpit theatre in London.

“We Wish You Long Life” is Amy’s new piece of writing, which will be performed at Manchester Jewish Museum this Spring as part of our inaugural Synagogue Scratch season.

BOOK TICKETS FOR “WE WISH YOU LONG LIFE”

Hello Amy, It’s great to meet you! Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about yourself and your work?

Hello! It’s been really lovely meeting and getting to know the MJM team too. I’m Amy – I’m an actor and writer from Manchester and I studied Psychology at The University of Cambridge. I’ve always really loved performing and was mainly involved in singing and acting when I was a bit younger. While at University, I found it quite frustrating rarely getting well rounded female characters to play and especially female characters that reflected my lived experience so I started writing my own work as a way to try and compensate for that lack of representation. I really enjoy writing using verbatim material and interview as well as approaching writing and character from a psychological perspective. At least my degree didn’t go completely to waste!

Your first full-length play, a teen drama titled ‘Life Before The Line’ was a huge success with five-star reviews and sold out performances at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Now, you’re coming back with a new, Jewish Mancunian story. What is ‘We Wish You Long Life’ about?

“We Wish You Long Life” is about the reconciliation between a Mancunian Jewish family and their Irish Catholic relatives when they are joined together at a shiva house. It looks at the cultural integration and conflict as well as the shared history (and family) between these two communities. The play also looks at the importance of shared memory and intergenerational family relationships and the complicated dynamics that accompany these.

How did it start? Why did you decide to tell this story?

“We Wish You Long Life” came about as I’d been selected as a writer for a twenty four hour short play festival called “One Play One Day” produced by Reload Theatre Company. Danny Ryder and Tilly Sutcliffe, the producers behind Reload, had revived the festival after a seven year hiatus and selected around twenty five actors, six writers and six directors to write, rehearse and stage six short plays to a live audience all within twenty four hours. And it was no small feat.

We all met on the Saturday evening, groups of actors were randomly selected (our names were literally picked out of a hat) and randomly paired with a writer and director. I was really lucky to be paired up with a wonderful director and really fantastic group of actors (some of whom including Orline Riley and John Joyce-O’ Keefe reprised their roles!). I got the ideas for the characters from interviewing each actor to try and write a character that they would suit and be able to play in twenty four hours time.

I was really fascinated by John, who originally played Steven (he was really brilliant too) and his Irish Catholic family history and I thought it would be really interesting to incorporate into the play. I already had the idea of a shiva house as an interesting setting and it fell into place!

The show was a really great success in the end so I decided to develop the play further. Also Reload theatre now do a “One Play One Day” every couple of months and they’re always really great so I’d highly recommend going along to watch them!

Who is your favourite character in the play and why?

Karen! She is the caterer that’s been hired for this bizarre shiva and she acts as a witness to this dysfunction family event. Tilly also plays her so brilliantly and provides much needed comic relief.

What sort of person is going to love this show?

A person who’s interested in small family drama and who might be interested in Jewish and Irish Catholic history.

What excites you most about performing this new play as part of Synagogue Scratch at Manchester Jewish Museum?

Performing in the beautiful reconstructed synagogue space is so exciting and also a really unique experience for an actor and a writer.

What feedback are you interested in hearing from our audiences? How can they help you shape this piece for future performances?

The play is only about 40-45 minutes long so it’s be really helpful to know how audiences might like to see the story extended. It would be great to know which character or storylines they feel need a bit more development.

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