John Maguire is Creative Director of ArtsGroupie CIC, which specialises in making the arts accessible to all by concentrating on three strands — arts, community and heritage.
Recent work includes Kitty, Queen of the Washhouse, which tells the ‘‘against all odds” story of how a 19th century working-class Irish immigrant became a community champion in Liverpool, earning her the title “Saint of the Slums”.
The production is being staged at the King’s Head, London N1 March 10-13John is currently the History Group lead for the Liverpool Irish Festival’s Famine Trail project, co-ordinating community engagement in the Liverpool City region. The work so far has resulted in the publication of a community co-created book called REVIVE. (www.liverpoolirishfestival.com/engage/liverpool-irish-famine-trail/)
I believe in the power of theatre to tell stories and transport people to other places. Theatre is magic as it creates something that is hard to define. I love to see the connectivity between the audience and the performer and the sense of community that is created. It is a joy to see that happen every night with our play. There is unity in community.
Artsgroupie are preparing for our #International Women’s Day mini tour of our production Kitty, Queen of the Washhouse. We play Liverpool, London and Salford this spring and are planning on taking Kitty to Ireland in March 2024, particularly, Derry where our heroine was born.
From a production perspective a one-person show is very cost effective and in times when funds are tight this helps a lot. The form of the play also allows great flexibility in where it can be performed, helping us reach diverse audiences.
The thing is, though, it’s a lot of pressure on one person on stage. But our actress, Samantha Alton, is an impeccable performer and we have a small tight knit team, so we are more of a family than just co-workers.
Our team is made up predominantly of Liverpudlians, so we all have Irish heritage. It’s thought that 75 per cent of all Liverpudlians do. I am currently working on a project with the Liverpool Irish Festival about the Liverpool Irish Famine trail and this has sparked a personal interest in finding out about my family’s heritage. I know my great grandmother’s family came over from Ireland during the Great Hunger, so I really want to discover more about my ancestry.
I love Newgrange, Co. Meath. I find it a fascinating space. I also love the Giant’s Causeway. The landscapes in Ireland are mesmerizingly beautiful. I feel very much at home in Dublin, as the humour and attitude of people is very much like the Liverpool mindset.
After working with the team on the Kitty production since its origin as a small piece back in 2018, I’ve found myself adopting a few phrases that Kitty says in our play. Things like “Well done is better than well said,” and “The thing about common sense is, it is not as common as you think.”
When I’m writing I have a room in my flat that I call The Blue Room Writing Studio, named after a line in a David Bowie track. I am very ritualistic with my writing, early every morning around six, I tend to write at my desk and use the same black fountain pen. I also have a battered leather chair I use to sit and read. It could do with being thrown away but I can’t get rid of it as I taught my nephew to read in it. I keep saying I’ll get it reupholstered but then I forget about it and a few months have gone by.
I really admire Bette Davis as she was unapologetic and pioneering as an actress. She also left behind a high-quality portfolio of work as her legacy. I was brought up by four strong females and they always had a barbed and acidic comment at the ready…and still do!
A hero of mine would be a man named William Roscoe who became an MP in Liverpool in order to put his name towards the abolition of slavery in 1807 and at a time when Liverpool made fortunes from this barbaric industry. He also wrote a children’s poem, The Butterfly Ball and Grasshoppers Feast, a biography of Lorenzo de Medici and helped establish the Botanical Garden here in Liverpool in 1802. I am currently writing a play about this social activist, which will play in Liverpool this August.
I’d take panto over opera every time. It’s such an old art form and always hilarious as it involves the whole audience. I performed panto for two months when I was at University in Aberystwyth and it was a memorable and fun experience
Currently my reading includes a work on Saint Brigid of Kildare, which is really interesting. I recently finished a biography of actor Christopher Ecclestone, a really honest and moving observation about his relationship with his father.
I live on a council estate and the sense of community is great. I also live fifteen minutes from a local wood, so I love being able to go and walk through it and observe the changing seasons. I used to live in Liverpool City Centre but I missed green space, so moved back to be by where my family home is and my sister lives just around the corner, my brother has just bought a place here too, so it’s great to be so close to the clan.
But we live by a road, so traffic is pretty bad. I did think that after lockdown, after people realised the benefits of walking, there would be fewer cars on the roads, but it seems to have gotten worse.
Kitty, Queen of the Washhouse, King's Head, Islington, March 10-13
0207 226 8561