Leeds Heritage Theatres – where every seat tells a story. Find out more about how you can name a seat at one of our venues.

A headshot of Elvi Piper over a promotional image for We're Not Going Back.

Directing We're Not Going Back

With one month to go until Red Ladder Theatre Company’s We’re Not Going Back arrives at City Varieties Music Hall, we’re taking a look behind the scenes with director Elvi Piper to learn what’s gone into this show centered on the resilience of working communities during the miners’ strike.

Written by Elvi Piper


Finding Red Ladder

The first piece of theatre I saw when I moved to Leeds 10 years ago, on maybe my second or third night in the city, was Red Ladder’s Playing the Joker at Leeds Playhouse. The little front-of-house area curtained off into a pop-up venue was heaving, and the audience laughed and commented and nodded along knowingly to the unraveling tale of Eddie Waring’s life.

It wasn’t like theatre experiences I’d had before – it felt like a local pub on quiz night, unexpected, come-at-able and a little bit unruly. I loved it.

Red Ladder has always been a bastion of front-footed political theatre that tells stories where people actually live them, and as a theatre-maker in Leeds, I couldn’t feel more privileged to be trusted to tell stories for them.

When I was offered the opportunity to direct We’re Not Going Back 10 years on from its original staging, I was thrilled (and, I’ll admit, a little bit intimidated too) to be handed responsibility for a show that already means so much to Red Ladder’s audiences and the team who first created it.

This play tells a story about the miners’ strike I’d never really heard before, from the experience of the women affected; the women at the heart of the communities impacted, who organised groups, fed people, stood up, stood by, held up, marched, worked, picketed, defended, fought, survived…

A cast member looks shocked towards another cast member towards the right of the frame.

The cast of We're Not Going Back.

We’re Not Going Back

You’ve got Boff Whalley’s brilliant script and music, brought back to life by the outstanding original all-female cast (back in the roles they played a decade ago), with live music arranged and performed by the magnificent Beccy Owen – there’s a lot to be excited about in this show!

I hope we can bring all the ingredients of this show to life in a version that speaks to the original production, but gives audiences something new too! We’ve stripped back the set to play with a collection of choice props to tell this story in a way that reflects the resourceful, practical, enterprising spirit of our three heroines and ties us to the era.

We’ve also been given a lot of freedom to play with the text in the room, to examine the shifts in language, storytelling and performance styles since the show’s last outing – and there’s even been the gift of some new music to add to the stupendous soundtrack! Lots of new things to excite audiences, but with the much-loved bones of this brilliant show as they ever were.

Three women look dramatically beyond the camera, under an umbrella.
Three women sing together on bus seats.
Three women stand around a sheep wearing rubber gloves. The central woman holds a knife.

The History

During this process I’ve learned so much about the events that took place in the year the play spans (1984-1985) and the experiences of the people and communities impacted by the miners’ strike.

The shockwaves of the strike have shaped the lives of generations to come, and the experiences of the play’s characters 40 years ago are eerily and frustratingly familiar today. I’ve also been overwhelmingly inspired by the incredible stories of defiance, empowerment, and determination in the face of adversity that this process has thrown in my path; and I hope audiences will be too.

I hope they’ll leave this show inspired, outraged, smiling, swearing and singing – entertained, affected and even changed by the art on the stage in front of them.

The 1984-85 Miners' Strike in the Durham Coalfield. Easington Colliery Club. Marilyn Johnson serving lunch during the school holidays.

The 1984-85 Miners' Strike in the Durham Coalfield. Easington Colliery Club. Marilyn Johnson serving lunch during the school holidays.

Book tickets