Belgrade Theatre Presents World Premiere of ‘The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency’
The World Premiere of the brand new musical, The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency, is coming to Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre this Autumn in co-production with Coventry City of Culture Trust and the critically acclaimed Cardboard Citizens. The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency is an inspiring new musical based on a true story, from the original work of Heathcote Williams about how a small group of revolutionaries proved that real change is really possible.
Coventry born writer, Sarah Woods and Cardboard Citizens’ Artistic Director Adrian Jackson share with us the inspiration behind the musical, and how it feels to have created a show for the fabulous Coventry City of Culture.
Tell us a bit about the story of Ruff Tuff.
AJ: The play tells the remarkable true story of a group of activists who set up an estate agency for squatters in the mid-1970s. They would drive around and find abandoned or boarded up properties, break into them, attach new padlocks and take the keys back to the ‘estate agency’. Homeless people would come in looking for somewhere to stay, and the estate agency would give them the keys to a property they had broken into. Believe it or not, over a two year period, about 3,000 people were housed.
Adrian, where did the inspiration come from to tell the story of Ruff Tuff as a musical?
AJ: The original short play that Heathcote wrote had a lot of music in it – because this was the birth time of punk, a music of revolt. The Clash played in the Frestonia National Theatre – they lived in the squats in the area. A musical seemed a natural development.
How does it feel to be creating a new musical for City of Culture?
AJ: It is wonderful to be part of this great year in this warm and welcoming city. We have already worked at community level here earlier this year, making a Forum Theatre piece with 20 local homeless people; many of those participants will also be part of a community choir in Ruff Tuff. It is a real privilege to be working in the Belgrade, making an uplifting piece of theatre as we come out of the pandemic.
SW: It’s very exciting to be creating this musical as part of the City of Culture for three reasons. Firstly, we haven’t been able to make theatre for ages – so it feels incredible to be in a room with other people and being creative again. Secondly, having been born and brought up in the area, it’s always really special to come back to your roots with a show. And thirdly I think it’s a lovely piece of work – it’s a great story, funny and moving and uplifting – and with some banging tunes.
Sarah, tell us about your connections to Coventry and the Belgrade Theatre.
SW: I was born in Coventry – my parents were both born and brought up in Coventry. We sometimes came to The Belgrade to see a show, often the pantomime. I wanted to be a playwright from the age of about 11 and so going to the theatre was really exciting for me. Once we had a meal in the Belgrade Theatre restaurant and I remember sitting holding the menu and thinking “I’ve pretty much made it”.
When I was a teenager, I auditioned for The Belgrade Youth Theatre and got a part in The Bacchae, which was really exciting. I then had one of my first plays, Everywoman, staged by the Youth Theatre in the old Belgrade Studio, and got interviewed by The Coventry Evening Telegraph.
My early experiences at the Belgrade opened up the world of theatre to me – both in terms of learning from those around me and feeling like people were interested in what I had to say. Having a play on at the Belgrade Studio at the age of 16 gave me the confidence and inspiration to keep writing. It was my gateway into the world of the arts.
What would you like audiences to take away from Ruff Tuff?
AJ: That another world actually is possible. That activism in communities can be fun and can really make a difference. That anyone can be involved in building community. That the housing crisis is soluble.
SW: I want the audience to go away feeling like things are possible. We’ve been through 18 months of focusing on everything being impossible and frightening, and 18 months of feeling disconnected from our communities and our lives and even our families. This is a show about connection and the power of what we can achieve when we do things together. I also want people to go away singing the songs – which I have no doubt they will. I’ve been singing them 24/7 for months!