Play inspired by a homeless York man to go ahead after brilliant crowdfunding campaign

Don Walls with his son Peter in 2012
1 Jun 2016 @ 10.39 am
| Charity, Community news

Don Walls with his son Peter in 2012
Don Walls with his son Peter in 2012
It is four years since Peter Walls died. He had schizophrenia and struggled with addiction.

The Beggars of York

Studio, York Theatre Royal

Tues July 12-Weds July 13 @ 7pm; Weds matinee @ 2pm

£10-£12

More details and book

He spent 30 years busking poems on the streets of York, and was regularly arrested for begging. He always maintained that he was simply reciting poetry for which people spontaneously offered small change.

The police saw it differently.

Unlike his many homeless friends and associates, however, Peter had a home to sleep in every night — the home of his father, Don Walls.

Don explains: “He lived with me here, but he spent every day out on the streets of York. He couldn’t get a job – people didn’t realise how his mental illnesses affected him.

“So to ordinary people he just looked like a down-and-out.”

Don, now 86, is a published poet, and has bipolar disorder. Now, he has written a play which chronicles Peter’s experiences and those of his associates on the streets.

As well as depicting the horrors and humours of living rough, The Beggars of York launches a defiant attack on the police and challenges us all to fight for better integration of social and care services.

Written in Don’s signature style of verse, it’s part Greek-tragedy, part eulogy, part performance-poetry.

Issues are universal

Last year the play was picked up by director Joshua Goodman who agreed to take on the job of trying to find a platform for the text.

He explains: “We obviously had to do it in York. The issues are certainly universal, but it’s got a very home-grown feel.

“I was thrilled when the folk at the York Theatre Royal’s TakeOver festival got involved. They have been really supportive in helping me get the work out there, including offering performance space for three shows in July.”

But whilst the TakeOver festival is supporting the project in-kind, they were unable to financially support the project in its entirety.

Festival artistic director Lizzy Whynes described the play as “such an important piece” but didn’t have the budget to commission it.

“We are giving Josh and his team free rehearsal space, a free performance space and lots of in-kind marketing help,” she said.

But without the cash to stage it, the future of The Beggars of York was in the balance.

So Joshua’s company, Tiny Window, launched a crowdfunding campaign which aimed to raise £6,000 in just a few weeks.

“This is still a shoe-string, low budget production. But these few thousand quid will mean the difference between a low-budget/ mates-rates production and exploitative, poor quality work. It’s essential,” said Joshua.

‘It needs to be seen’

Inspiringly the crowd-funding campaign worked, smashing the £6K barrier on the last day.

Local business owner Terry Brett of Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, was one who donated. He said:

I have known Don and enjoyed his poetry for many years. I remember his son Peter as a very likeable street entertainer with an ability to bring T.S. Eliot’s cat poems to life.

He could throw his voice like an actor and become a cat. So I offered to try and help raise the money to get this play produced.

This is a contemporary grass roots play which raises important issues about mental illness and the homeless. It needs to be seen and we have a great opportunity to see that it gets onto the stage.

Josh thanked everyone who helped: “So many people made so much effort to give, organise, publicise, tweet, share, pester and beg.

“This combined energy and enthusiasm couldn’t be a better start to what will certainly be a unique and special project.”