Spotlight on the night the lights went out in Lancaster

Flooding in storm-hit Lancaster. Photo by Saffron Shirreffss.
Flooding in storm-hit Lancaster. Photo by Saffron Shirreffss.

A looter, Ant from Ant and Dec, and the man who cut the power to more than 60,000 homes and businesses in Lancaster all feature in a new play about the city’s infamous floods and resulting three day power outage.

‘Where were you when the lights went out?’ asks Blackout – a unique new play which opens at The Dukes this week.

Electricity North West workers trying to protect the sub station on Caton Road.

Electricity North West workers trying to protect the sub station on Caton Road.

It is inspired by real life stories from those caught up in the aftermath of Storm Desmond on December 5 2015.

When the lights when out at 10.45pm, Ian Ibbotson, 58, from The Vale, was at a disco at The George Hotel in Torrisholme.

He was just about to ask someone to dance.

Remembering that fateful night, he recalls his concern for an elderly neighbour, and walking home in the pitch black.

Maureen Cronin and Mimi Walder, who are appearing in Blackout

Maureen Cronin and Mimi Walder, who are appearing in Blackout

Ian plays a security guard for Morrisons supermarket in the play after being picked as one of its 40 “community cast” members.

He previously performed in another play about Storm Desmond called After The Floods, focusing on the effect it had on the city’s homeless.

He said it had been a “real confidence builder”.

Steve McGarry, another cast member, hadn’t acted since he played Prince Charming when he was 10-years-old.

Steve McGarry, who is appearing in Blackout

Steve McGarry, who is appearing in Blackout

In Blackout, Steve plays the area manager for Electricity North West, who made the decision to power down the district after the river Lune burst its banks and flooded the substation in Caton Road.

Steve, from Ulverston, is a member of the dementia support team for the Age UK charity based in Chapel Street, Lancaster, which was also submerged under water.

He said: “It’s through my work there and the partnership we have with The Dukes that I came to be in the play.

“I last acted when I was 10-years-old. I played Prince Charming!

The Dukes production of Blackout which runs from October 13-November 3..jpg

The Dukes production of Blackout which runs from October 13-November 3..jpg

“The play reflects pretty much what happened.

“I made the call to turn off the power to 60,000 customers across Lancaster.

“I can feel for this guy.

“I can feel his emotion and frustration, and his anxiety in so much as he’s been hit with this and decisions have to be made, and that was the final decision.

“You can imagine how he would have felt.

“It’s been amazing to meet so many people and gel with them.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity.”

Maureen Cronin, from Bare, is “Mel’s mum” in the play.

Maureen is a member of Prime Time, an over 50s drama group at The Dukes, which does drama sketches and improv, and technique and skills working.

She said: “Mel’s mum is an abused woman, a victim of domestic violence, who gets rid of the abuser and her daughter Mel comes back home.

“I also play Ant out of Ant and Dec. It’s a tiny part, but it’s been great.”

Mimi Walder, who lives near Garstang, is also a member of Prime Time, and is in the play’s “ensemble”.

“Basically I walk about commenting as I go along,” she said.

“I comment on the rain. I’m also a looting woman who makes the most of the conditions to go into a shop and steal stuff.

“But she doesn’t care, even though it’s a baby shop.

“It’s been terrifying, I never realised how hard it is to perform in The Round, there’s nowhere to hide!”

Blackout, runs from October 13-November 3 at The Dukes.

It has been written following extensive interviews with residents, community organisations, emergency responders, sociologists and journalists who weathered the storm together.

At the storm’s peak, 1,742 cubic metres of water per second flowed down the River Lune – the highest flow of any river ever recorded in England.

The “water” has been created using thousands of marbles on a marble run, and the play explores ideas of fluidity and movement.

There are two community groups that will perform on alternative nights.

Awardwinning writer Sarah MacDonald-Hughes has focused the play’s attention on the real-life experiences of a Lancaster business owner who saw her shop devastated by flood water, a young woman from Morecambe who was forced to wander the streets during the blackout and a schoolboy who lost his most precious possession to Storm Desmond.

Professional actors Christine Mackie, who plays Dr Gaddas in Coronation Street, and Peter Rylands, will be supported by 40 community performers in keeping with the ethos of Blackout being created with, and performed by, local people.

Christine said: “I think Peter Rylands and I have both been really impressed by the enthusiasm, commitment and courage of the ensemble community cast. “They’ve brought great humour and heart to this script, and they’re really going for it!

“The young company are very impressive too and now, even though we have two teams, cast A and cast B, we’re one big gang!

“I can’t remember The Dukes ever undertaking a community play like this and I really urge readers of the Lancaster Guardian to support us.

“The reason I was so keen to be a part of Blackout is because the play is based on the experiences of people from Lancaster, Morecambe and surrounding villages and it’s being performed by local people. Come and see it - you’ll have a good night!”

Tickets are available from The Dukes online at www.dukes-lancaster.org.