A Northern Soul by Hattie Naylor

Contact Us

A Northern Soul by Hattie Naylor. Dir. Marc Jobst. Perf. Craig Edwards, Patrick Baladi, Tom Glenister. BBC Radio 4, 18 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 20 Mar. 2015

How time can change people. This was the overarching theme behind "A Northern Soul," whose action oscillated between 1978 and the present day. Mark (Tom Glenister) takes a vacation job at a car factory in Wolverhampton, and becomes initiated into a series of arcane rituals, including not working too hard, taking exactly fifteen minutes for tea-break, and adopting a militant attitude towards the bosses. Even though this is only a temporary job after leaving school, he is forced to become a union member in a closed shop. He encounters Sophie (Jessica Hayles), who is virtually shunned by everyone else, in the belief that, as she is related to the bosses, she must be some kind of informer.

The only outlet for Mark is provided when he discovers the Northern Soul scene, introduced to him by fellow-worker Jerry (Craig Edwards). The two of them travel to Wigan Casino and discover a new world of possibilities. The only snag is that such an act of defiance causes problems for Mark's strait-laced parents ...

Fast forward to the present day. Now Mark (Patrick Baladi) has become a successful journalist, and he decides to interview Jerry about his reminiscences of that time, and how the Northern Soul scene eventually died out. Jerry's life has not been as successful as Mark's; hence he looks back with nostalgia to those days of the late Seventies, in the pre-Thatcher era when it really did seem as if unions had the power to make their voices heard, while the music expressed a kind of freedom that simply does not exist now.

"A Northern Soul" is a cleverly ambiguous title; it not only refers to the music scene, but describes Jerry's character. In the late Seventies this "northern soul" seemed super-cool, a representative of a powerful organization, a believer in working-class freedoms, and a cheerleader for a new and innovative brand of music. Now that soul has been destroyed, due in no small part to the rise of the Thatcherite Right, which made a point of destroying union power. Now Jerry resents most of what Mark stands for; a successful career-man in the private sector who treats Jerry rather patronizingly, even though he might not mean to.

Hattie Naylor's play suggests that, while times might have changes, class preoccupations still exist. In fact, they could be even sharper now than they were over thirty-five years ago when Thatcher came to power.