It is (almost) 50 years ago today that The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Liverpool is celebrating the landmark album’s anniversary with a festival – and one event is taking it particularly close to home for locals.
When actress Brodie Arthur was asked to take part in Liverpool’s official Sgt Pepper anniversary celebrations, she first needed to do some quick research.
“When they said ‘Sgt Pepper,’ I said, ‘Oh no, I’ll have to Google it because I don’t know any of the songs on the album,'” the 25-year-old says.
“When I listened, I knew a couple of them, but I wouldn’t necessarily have associated them with the album. I remember the cover and what it looks like, but I’ve never really been familiar with it.”
Now more familiar, Arthur is the star of a play inspired by track six, She’s Leaving Home.
Listening to it afresh as someone half the age of the album itself, the stirring ballad still “hits you in the feelers”, she says.
The play is one of a number of events taking place in the Fab Four’s home city for the anniversary.
Each song has inspired a different performance or artwork.
But none is what you might expect – there are no tribute gigs or homages to the LP’s iconic cover.
For She’s Leaving Home, Liverpool-based theatre company 20 Stories High asked young people about their home lives and their reactions to the song, which was written about a girl who walks out because she feels trapped by her parents – who say they have “sacrificed most of our lives” for her.
Performances will take place for audiences of just 10 people in the front rooms of terraced houses in the Toxteth area, meaning the play is more closely rooted in the city than any of the other anniversary events.
Arthur, who’s from Toxteth and is a former member of 20 Stories High’s youth theatre, says she can relate to the song.
Bringing the song up to date
“Even though it was 1967, it does feel like that [now], and it hit me because when I left home my mum was a bit like that – ‘I’ve sacrificed my whole life,’ and all the rest of it.
“I was just looking at it like, ‘I’m 18 and I want to move out and why are you being so horrible?’
“But now when I look back and after listening to the song, I thought, ‘Oh bless her, she must have been an absolute emotional wreck and I was just packing my bags and leaving her.'”
Playwright Keith Saha says he didn’t just want to retell the song’s original story.
“We wanted to think, what is it like in 2017? What decisions do young people have to make now when they leave home?”
For the intimate performance, Brodie delivers her monologues from the sofa, occasionally heading upstairs or out of the front door to shout at unseen characters while audience members watch from other sofas and stools.
Her teenage character must make her way in the world while supporting her mum and two siblings, and we also hear about friends and their housing problems.
Many of the stories in the play come from the members of the youth theatre who shared their experiences before the script was written.
According to Saha and director Julia Samuels, they included a young pregnant woman who wasn’t prioritised for council housing until her baby had been born; those having problems with private landlords; young carers; parents who sacrificed things for their children; and children who sacrificed things for their parents.
The results hit home, Arthur affirms. “I was on Facetime with my boyfriend and I was going through the script, and him and his mum were going, ‘Mate, how relevant is that? It couldn’t be any more bang on.’
“My mate came round yesterday and I only went through the first eight pages and she was like, ‘Girl, I can’t wait to see this, I literally feel like this is me and you years ago.’
“It’s real, isn’t it? Or it feels it.”
Ringo’s house ‘too small’
First, 15 public performances will take place in a house in the Granby area, half a mile from the house where Ringo Starr grew up.
“We did think about doing it in there,” says Samuels. “But it was a bit small.”
After that, the play will go on a micro-tour of Liverpool 8 (the postcode area that lent its name to Starr’s 2008 album), with another 15 performances in 15 homes.
The householders all applied to host Arthur and her performance, and can invite family, neighbours and friends to watch.
It really is close to home for Arthur – her auntie lives three doors down from the house that is hosting the first 15 performances, and a cousin lives over the road.
“So this is where I’m from, this is all I’ve ever known.”
This means she could see lots of familiar faces gazing from the sofas and stools around her.
“Obviously I’m nervous to see how many people I actually know whose houses we’re going in to. But I think it just gives an extra bit of passion because some of the issues that are raised are actual issues.”
Fifty years on, Sgt Pepper is still speaking to the people of Liverpool.