Alice Burns

Once Upon A Time In Wigan: A Review

Part of this year’s Young Everyman and Playhouse Directors’ Festival, Once Upon A Time in Wigan by Mick Martin is the first show in the series of six productions shown at the Everyman this June. This particular play takes us right into the heart of the northern music scene of 70s and 80s Britain, in a smoke-fuelled, sweat-dripping northern casino in the heart of… Wigan. Before the growth of club culture as we know it today, Wigan casino played host to thousands of eager visitors every week to celebrate their love of 60s and 70s American soul music classics–with a fair share of drink, drugs and debauchery alongside.

The play itself, directed by Rachel Smart, forms a witty yet poignant snapshot of the lives of the people that lived through the heyday of Northern Soul and how music continues to resonate in the lives of everyday people long after the records reach their end. Following the experiences of four of these individuals, we first meet Eugene (Tom McLean) a butcher’s assistant from Bolton whose pretty dismal existence is brightened from the first moment he steps into Wigan casino.

Here, he meets Maxine, played by Lauren Darbyshire, as a straight-talking northern lass with a difficult home life and a job in retail she hates. Their lives soon become entwined in a relationship which parallels the difficulties undergone by the casino itself. Their friends Danny (a music-obsessed junkie played by Isaac Nixon) and kind-hearted but naïve Suzanne (Angela Cliff) also try to navigate their complex lives growing up on the Northern soul scene.

In this four-piece small-scale production, the YEP performers played each role with a genuine sense of emotional depth, entrapping the audience in a real sense of engaging realism. A characteristically gritty representation of 70s and 80s Northern England, all four actors performed with admirable enthusiasm, each portraying a scope of relatable flaws and imperfections adding depth and emotional complexity to each character.

Ultimately, this play explores the immense difficulty that is growing up, intensified by those around us, everyone figuring out their place in the vast, politically and socially complex world. Music is at the forefront of this presentation of livelihoods, fuelling the complex relationships of people whose lives revolve around Northern Soul in an otherwise bleak existence.

The sentiment expressed in Once Upon A Time in Wigan is one which embraces the difficulties of the individual’s journey of self-identity, the soaring the highs and enduring the lows of life. Whilst learning to become what we are, and perhaps even more crucially: what we want to be.

Exploring six plays over two weeks, young performers from all over the city come together to produce, promote and take part in productions which support the next generation of theatre makers in the UK. To book your FREE tickets call 01517094776 or visit

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