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Janet Plater play draws on true stories of strong Sunderland women

Janet Plater has written a play based on the experiences of women who are benefiting from an innovative community project in Sunderland

Lydia’s House, the play's cast, with playwright Janet Plater third from left at the back, and Christina Berriman Dawson second from left
Lydia’s House, the play's cast, with playwright Janet Plater third from left at the back, and Christina Berriman Dawson second from left

The remarkable story of how the lives of Sunderland women are being rebuilt by a pioneering project in Hendon is dramatised this week.

Lydia’s House, written by Janet Plater, daughter of one of the UK’s leading stage and TV writers, Alan Plater (Z-Cars, Joe Maddison’s War, A Very British Coup), tells the true story of five Sunderland women and their struggles against adversity.

At a Hendon workshop, women who have been socially or economically excluded are given an opportunity to learn, train and gain access to the world of work.

The pioneering Doll’s House project is run by Lydia’s House, a social enterprise aiming to help women with problems such as alcoholism, depression, drug addiction or long-term unemployment.

The women are given the materials and support to build their own doll’s house, a process which gives them skills, confidence and the support of others in a similar position.

Janet has taken the real stories of five women and brought them to life in a play named after the project, which starts a regional tour at the Arts Centre Washington tonight.

“The workshop gives many of the women a reason to get up in the morning,” she says. 

“These Sunderland women and their stories have never been represented on stage and their stories need to be told. I sat in on the workshops and listened to their stories and watched how they went about their work on the dolls’ houses.”

Washington-based actress and producer Christina Berriman Dawson has been instrumental in getting the play staged: “I was incredibly moved by the life stories of some of these women and knew Janet would be the perfect writer to bring these stories to the stage,” she says. 

“Having grown up in single parent family in Washington myself, I felt a real connection with the project and the women who attend it.

“The fact that three of the five actresses in the show are from Sunderland gives it a real authenticity.”

Catherine Trillo is the founder of Lydia’s House and has used her experience in the antiques trade to train participants in furniture restoration and then sell the products in her antiques shop in Dean Street in Newcastle.

 “I feel honoured this play has been written by Janet Plater, depicting the work of Lydia’s House, Dolls House Project,” says Catherine.

“In the script she has managed to portray the relational element of our workshop’s aims of peer support and peer mentoring with great sensitivity. Raising just some of the real life issues, the struggles and courage that many women in Sunderland bear.

“Using drama, creativity and humour helps to bring a message of hope, home, in a time of high unemployment, deprivation and poverty. “

* Lydia’s House opens at Arts Centre Washington tonight (Thursday, June 19), then moves to The Canny Space, Sunderland on Friday and Saturday and closes at The Customs House, South Shields on Thursday, June 26. Tickets are available from the venues, and priced at £5 for people living in The Cultural Spring wards, thanks to the initiative’s Go and See programme.

The 10 wards the £2m Arts Council-funded project is working in are Red House, Castletown Southwick, Fulwell and St Peter’s in Sunderland, and Biddick Hall and All Saints, Boldon Colliery, Cleadon and East Boldon, Whitburn and Marsden, and Whiteleas in South Tyneside.

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