Jackie Hagan’s The Forest of Forgotten Discos

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The Forest of Forgotten Discos is an inclusive Christmas family show with a difference. Produced by Contact Theatre and written by Jackie Hagan, with integrated access elements, it plays Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester 11-23 December. Joe Turnbull spoke to Hagan ahead of its premiere.

Jackie Hagan in a wheelchair

Jackie Hagan. Photograph: Nick Field

When she was a kid, growing up on a council estate in Skelmersdale Jackie Hagan used to threaten to run away from home, a lot. Her estate overlooked a forest, resplendent with Nettos bags, abandoned shopping trolleys and empty crisp packets. Escaping to the forest was far from a fairy tale.

But when Contact Theatre came knocking, asking Hagan to write a family Christmas show, it presented her with the opportunity to imagine what running away could have been like in a fantastical parallel universe.

“I’ve been working with Contact theatre since my first solo show Some People Have Too Many Legs,” explains Hagan. “They asked me on board and then I brought in Nickie Miles-Wildin as a director because she is as daft as me and shares a commitment to making theatre accessible.”

The Forest of Forgotten Discos is a contemporary show, free from stereotypes, nuclear family units and full of colourful characters, not to mention some brilliant tongue-in-cheek references. Red, who is nine, has run away from home after trouble at home. She encounters three bears – but there’s no mummy, daddy and baby bear. Instead, she finds Bear Minimum, Bear Hug and Bear Grills, plus Alexa, the virtual assistant from the Amazon Rainforest!

Clearly, Hagan was keen to avoid the cliché of those more ‘traditional’ Christmas shows.

The Forest of Forgotten Discos is all about fun and that uplifting cosiness you can feel in your heart at Christmas. It’s much sassier and up to date than a panto! Having a diverse cast and crew is really important to us, we have a mix of BAME, D/deaf and disabled actors and crew and we’re not into stereotypes.

The show is about understanding that people are different, and when you accept that you can work together. You can find a way to make the disco ball work again and then we can all have a Christmas disco!”

Paisley Reid as Red

Paislie Reid plays Red in The Forest of Forgotten Discos. Photograph: Lee Baxter

I ask Hagan if she has any fond memories of Christmas discos which might have provided some ammunition for the show.

“I worked in a pub for years and every Christmas eve, at midnight we’d play ‘A Wombling Merry Christmas’ and the staff would have a dance then we’d leg it back behind the bar.”

Hagan’s theatre work to date has been quite adult in its themes, usually packed with plenty of profanity, so I was curious if making the switch to a children’s show had been a challenge.

“I’ve been doing youth work for years so writing for younger people came naturally. Even my very adult work has the general theme of ‘be nice to folk, you don’t know what they’re dealing with’ at its core.

Little kids are very discerning when it comes to what they can be bothered paying attention to, which means you have to make sure there’s absolutely no filler, in the same way as very drunk people at cabaret nights or comedy clubs. So in that way I’ve been training for years!”

Hagan was keen to bring in Nickie Miles Wildin as the Director, ever since meeting her through Graeae’s workshops around its production of The House of Bernarda Alba at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

“Nickie is great. We come from the same place in terms of making activities in such a way as everyone can join in. We are not in any way scared of that or embarrassed about asking questions. Just knowing that everyone has got wonky bits and bits that have fell off and we’re all a jumble sale of influences and hidden things. Basically, everyone can fly if you don’t make them feel self-conscious about it. So don’t make them feel self-conscious about it.”

Both have a commitment to making theatre accessible, in more ways than one, as Hagan expands:

“Accessibility isn’t just about tacking a ramp to the side of the theatre. We are trying to find creative ways of not excluding people. So this means instead of having a stage and then rows of seats in front of it, we have different types of seating and the stage at different points around the room, places people can sit who might not feel comfortable being in the middle of the action, actors signing at different points, visual storytelling, a separate room with activities. We’re still in development so this isn’t all set in stone and we certainly won’t be accessible for everyone all the time because we’re realistic, but we’re on it.”

So if you’re looking for a family show with a bit of sassiness, an inclusive approach and plenty of laughs, go and get yourself lost in The Forest of Forgotten Discos!

The Forest of Forgotten Discos is at Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard St, Manchester M4 7JA 11-23 December, with 3 performances daily at 11am, 2pm and 7pm. Tickets £13/£7 (conc.)