Playwright Amanda Whittington talks about Ladies Unleashed at Hull Truck Theatre

This week Hull Truck Theatre caught up with playwright Amanda Whittington to find out more about the inspiration behind Ladies Unleashed, ahead of the start of rehearsals on Monday 5 September. Amanda shares what to expect from the story, the characters, and how she is proud to have Ladies Unleashed as part of the theatre’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Why did you want to revisit the ladies?

Amanda: I wrote Ladies Day for Hull Truck in 2005 to coincide with Royal Ascot coming to York. I never imagined it would have such a long life. The original production toured the UK and has been regularly revived by different companies. Along with the sequel, Ladies Down Under, it’s also become a firm favourite of amateur theatres. Thanks to Nick Hern Books, barely a week goes by without us licensing a production somewhere in the UK. People have taken the characters to their hearts. I’d thought a lot about a trilogy over the years but when the opportunity came to bring the ladies back to Hull Truck, it felt like the right time and place. I was curious to know who they’d become in the 17 years since we first met.

Who is this play for?

Amanda: Anyone and everyone! I set out to write a recognisable yet surprising show about four friends who are growing older, know each other inside out but still have secrets up their sleeves. You certainly don’t need to know Ladies Day, it’s a stand-alone play with its own present-day story. If the characters are new to you, I hope what you’ll recognise is a group of friends and workmates who could be your own. If you already know the ladies, you’ll see who and where they are now, in 2022.  Their lives and relationships may have changed but some things stay stubbornly the same! 

Are you part of a female friendship group and are there any moments in your friendship with other women that have clearly inspired moments within the play?  

Amanda: I still have great friends from my schooldays and working life, although most of us are scattered across different parts of the country now – and the world. Yet when we come together, even after years apart, we pick up as if it were yesterday. That’s very much reflected in the play. Growing up, my mum worked in an office with a group of women who are friends to this day. The stories she’d come home with were our very own long-running drama and I loved it.  

Q. The ladies go on a weekend break – not a hen do, as the character Linda reminds them. However, is the play a feel-good night out?

Amanda: Let’s just say the night gets dark at a certain point! Linda’s getting married and her intention is a low-key break with her best mates, but it doesn’t quite go as they planned. There’s a lot of laughter in the story but the feel-good aspect is as much about what we see them fight to overcome. It’s a comedy drama, equally balanced, I hope.

Why did you choose the environment of Lindisfarne for the setting of the third instalment?

Amanda: I’ve discovered Lindisfarne in recent years and it’s such a special place. The history, the landscape and the fact it’s a tidal island makes staying there a unique experience. Being cut-off from the mainland is a gift of a story too, especially in such a timeless and other-worldly atmosphere. It’s a realistic play but Holy Island allows for magical realism along the way. The ladies leave the monochrome world, land on the island and find themselves on a metaphorical journey home. So, there’s maybe a touch of The Wizard of Oz in the setting, who knows?!

Do you think it’s important that this production is part of Hull Truck Theatre’s 50th anniversary programme?

Amanda: I’m very proud to have Ladies Unleashed as part of the anniversary celebrations of this great company. The play wouldn’t exist without Hull Truck. Ladies Day was first staged at the legendary Spring Street Street and strongly influenced by John Godber’s pioneering work there. All three of the ladies plays speak directly to and about the Hull women who’ve been a mainstay of Truck’s audience for those fifty years. Working with Mark Babych to bring their voices into the present day has been a real honour.

Dual time periods interweave throughout the play, how does this add to telling the story?

Amanda: Like Hull, Lindisfarne is a port with a strong fishing tradition. Historically, it was a place women would travel to work in the herring industry. The parallels with our four ladies’ backstory as fish factory workers was compelling.  I was also curious to place two younger women at the heart of a story about growing older and time passing. The social and political progress in women’s lives over the last century or so has been extraordinary. Everything’s changed – or has it?  We explore that question within the story.

If you could sum up the show in three words, what would they be?

Amanda: Relatable. Magical. Fun.

Ladies Unleashed runs at Hull Truck Theatre from Thursday 29 September to Saturday 22 October. You can book tickets online or call the box office on 01482 323638.