Inspiration can strike in the most unlikely places – and for Gerry Linford it was on a late-night Merseyrail train journey.
The 56-year-old writer was pondering a question from Royal Court producer Kevin Fearon, posed over a post-show pint after another successful evening for his play The Miracle of Great Homer Street.
“He came to me one night after the show and said: ‘have you got anything else?’” Linford recalls. “I said I’ll have a think about it and come up with something.
“Literally on the way home, the words ‘Yellow Breck Road’ came in to my head. I thought, that’s quite good. So I started to devise, still in my head, a kind of Scouse Wizard of Oz idea.”
Eight months and many, many drafts of script later and Yellow Breck Road has flown out of Linford’s head and on to the stage at the Royal Court, although it’s fair to say we’re not in Kansas anymore, there are no gingham frocks or red slippers, and absolutely no one is dressed as a scarecrow.
In fact, everyone’s gone to the moon.
But, says Linford, look closely and you can still see in the play’s central narrative thread the traces of that original Eureka moment on the way to Ellesmere Port.
“We have a character called Dorothy – or Dot,” he explains, “and she’s disillusioned with her home life and goes on a journey to an alien landscape.
“And whilst she’s in that alien landscape she discovers truths about herself and her family which equip her to return home with a better perspective of herself and her life.”
We’re chatting in the Royal Court rehearsal room where the cast, including Paul Duckworth, Jake Abraham, Lynn Francis and Eithne Browne, are busy working with director Bob Eaton to bring Linford’s vision to the stage.
Eaton also directed last summer’s The Miracle of Great Homer Street, and Linford describes him happily as a “genius”.
He smiles: “When I was told he was directing Miracle I was taken to meet him, and I was really nervous and said on the way ‘I don’t want to come across all fan boy, but I’ve been going to Bob Eaton’s plays for about the last 40 years and he’s the man. He’s the godfather of Liverpool theatre’.”
Linford in contrast is a newcomer to the stage.
He spent the first 25 years of his working life in the drugs and alcohol support sector, and only took up a pen a decade ago when he decided to do an MA in screenwriting at Liverpool John Moores University.
Off the back of that, he had a short film, Buddha Boy, commissioned by BBC Wales.
“When that happened, I thought, that’s it now, I’m going to be writing Coronation Street next week,” he laughs. “And it doesn’t happen like that.”
19 show to see at Liverpool theatres in 2019
Instead, he ended up marrying his old career and new passion, helping people who had addiction problems rebuild their lives through creativity including scriptwriting workshops and film-making groups.
Linford also started to write a book of original short stories, including one about a gambling priest.
He was in a coffee shop in the Baltic Triangle when he happened on a poster for the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize and made the snap decision to convert his priest tale in to a script for the stage.
A Prayer to Saint Cajetan, penned in the space of two weeks, went on to win the highly commended award and was subsequently turned in to The Miracle of Great Homer Street with playwriting prize judge Les Dennis in the leading role.
Les Dennis in The Miracle of Great Homer Street. Photo by Zanto Digital
“The mad thing is how theatre never occurred to me,” Linford, currently a screenwriting lecturer at UCLAN, admits. “My original degree in 1981 was English Language and Literature, and drama was one of my options - I studied playwrights like Ibsen.
“Even when I was a kid, I used to read Pinter, Beckett, Orton….and throughout my adult life I’ve always gone to the theatre. Writers like David Mamet and Neil Simon are total heroes of mine.
“So this was a kind of happy accident. And I’ve been kicking myself about it thinking, why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?!”
With two plays now under his belt, is there a recognisable Gerry Linford style developing?
He considers: “Recently one of my students asked if they could have a copy of Miracle of Great Homer Street, so I sent it to them and then thought, I’ll have a read of it myself. There are similarities, and I think I am starting to find a voice and develop a style.
“I think that style is warm-hearted, family, good-natured…and in the broadest sense, and I am painting with very broad strokes here, the theme that greed is bad, and compassion is good.
“Both plays have got a message that it’s nice to be nice. We’re all here and have got to pull together. It’s all about getting on and being good people.”
Yellow Breck Road is at Royal Court Liverpool from February 1 to March 2. Tickets from the website HERE