YOUNG people in Dumfries and Galloway take the lead in the Scottish premiere of a play the new poet laureate wrote in memory of a murdered 20-year-old woman.

Simon Armitage wrote Black Roses: The Killing Of Sophie Lancaster after spending three days talking with Sylvia, the mother of the dreadlocked young woman attacked with her boyfriend Robert Maltby by a group of teenagers in a Lancashire park in 2007.

As the pacifist vegetarian tried to protect Maltby from their blows, Lancaster was kicked so hard her face was imprinted with the shape of a metal star attached to one of the assailants’ shoes.

She never regained consciousness.

First produced as on Radio 4, Armitage’s elegy for Sophie mixes Sylvia’s recollections of her daughter with his own poetry.

In 2012, Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper starred in an acclaimed theatrical production at Manchester’s Royal Exchange.

Now, 12 years after her horrific death, Sophie Lancaster’s life will be remembered by a group of 16 to 23-year-olds from Dumfries and Galloway in the Scottish premiere of Black Roses.

With the approval of Armitage and Sophie’s mother, the new production from locally based theatre company Bunbury Banter features verbatim material gathered from people across Dumfries and Galloway.

Led by a group of professionals, the group of youngsters are involved in every aspect of the production, which is presented in partnership with Dumfries Theatre Royal and supported by Dumfries and Galloway Arts Live and the Holywood Trust, a non-profit organisation focusing on work with the under-25s.

“As much as they are involved in the cast, the young people are also involved with the lighting design, the sound design, the costumes,” says Black Roses director Ali Anderson-Dyer.

“While we do make professional work predominantly for adults, we work with young people quite frequently. The future of the theatre belongs to them.”

Interwoven through the original script are verbatim accounts taken from interviews the group conducted with other young people across the region.

The interviewees were asked about their ideas and experiences of tolerance, prejudice and whether they thought their community and Scotland more generally lived up to its reputed ideals.

Anderson-Dyer says she and her assistant director were present at the majority of interviews, which were then carefully transcribed.

“Lots of interesting things came out of those conversations,” she says.” We talked about stereotypes, what judgments we make about people on the street, and whether appearance and identity are linked. All the ‘ums’ and natural pauses are still in there.”

She adds: “Working with my dramaturg friend, it was pretty logical in terms of what people talked about and how to weave that into the script about Sophie.”

Though the conversational rhythm of the verbatim material contrasts with the lyrical poetics of Armitage’s original, Anderson-Dyer says she’s excited by the development of the piece, which also uses elements of movement work and physical theatre.

Bunbury Banter were given the rights to adapt the piece by Sylvia Lancaster. She runs the Sophie Lancaster Foundation both as a lasting legacy to her “beautiful, bright, creative” daughter and to challenge prejudice and intolerance towards people from alternative subcultures through educational group-work.

“Sylvia is very supportive

on including the bits from Dumfries,” says Anderson-Dyer. “Though looking at the play from this point of view is something different to what she was expecting, she wants to support anything that raises the profile of what the foundation is about. Hate crime and prejudice is around everywhere; being judged on our appearance, on what we wear, these are things that affect us on an everyday basis.”

When Armitage was named as the successor to Carol Ann Duffy in May, the West Yorkshire writer spoke of his desire to “give something back”. He had written Black Roses, he said, because Sophie could “no longer speak for herself”.

He sent messaged the company a couple of days ago.

“The very best of luck with the production and the performance. Good to think that Sophie’s voice speaks again.”

July 25 to 27, Theatre Royal, Dumfries, 7.30pm, £6.
Tel: 01387 253383.