Borderland; Public Burning Theatre

Chloe McLaughlin, of Burnley, is playing Kayla in Public Burning Theatre's Borderland. (s)

Chloe McLaughlin, of Burnley, is playing Kayla in Public Burning Theatre's Borderland. (s)

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Public Burning Theatre's provocative love story, alight with humanity and tenderness, is blazing into town.

Borderland is the urgent play, written by James Harker and directed by Danielle McIlven, depicting the LGBT romance between a Pakistani girl and a fellow pupil born and raised in Oldham.

Aminah meets Kayla, doused in blood, in after-school detention. The play is set in Oldham in 2002, a time of hardship and division.

This challenging piece was informed by the racial history of Northern working-class towns like Burnley. In fact, James began his research when working for The Guardian during the 10th anniversary of the Burnley riots, writing an article about its legacy and presenting a talk to the then-MP Gordon Birtwistle.

"I spoke to people around the town during the aftermath of the 2001 riots," he said. "Even though a lot was done about the violence, the wards in Burnley are still very separate. It's not just a Burnley problem though but one [that exists] across the North-West."

"During university cultures get together then afterwards fall apart again. In school, people can come together, even if forced to. I think it's sad that that moment opens up then closes. It's fleeting.

"I don't think it's one-sided though. Burnley has a reputation of being racist - I don't think that's fair. It's a complicated issue. I think it has a lot to do with underfunding."

While James sees the importance of creating work that challenges and depicts the reality of a troubling status quo, he understands the sensitivity and care required when weaving the webs of a story together.

"It's important to ask questions...[but also] to tell a good story with good characters and to not talk about issues in a preachy or didactic way," he added. "You need to make it as accurate as possible and write a hopefully relatable story. The play doesn't have a love conquers all message - that's not realistic. The aim is to be honest about how things are."

Taking on the role of Kayla is Burnley actress Chloe McLaughlin.

"I'd seen things differently [to James and Danielle] growing up in post-riot Burnley," the 23 year-old said. "I saw how segregated it was when that happened. I went to Ivybank/Habergham and it [the love story in the play between two girls, one white, one from Pakistan] would have been a big thing in 2002."

"But the play shows how far we've come in 15 years. If the characters were in their situation now there'd be a few eyebrows raised but in general we're in a better place in society. Homophobia and racism are still there. You can't say they're not but we've moved forward since 2002."

Awash with raw honesty, the play weaves together several threads of reality, penetrating the depths of the town's complexities.

"It has a lot about Burnley without being stereotypical," Chloe said. "The characters are well-rounded, more than just labels. Kayla's a bit of a bruiser, naughty at school but very disciplined in boxing. You see different sides to her. She's very different to the Kayla at school being cocky."

And the actress is certainly proud to represent her town in the show.

"I'm really glad we're bringing it back to Burnley. It's rare to have something about the town and its history and what it's been through, about the working-class and what they've gone through. The play hits on all these elements of class and race. It's a story I can relate to and has very strong characters who go on a journey. We need more theatre that challenges and gets us to look at and deal with issues that are important."

Borderland will be staged tomorrow at 6pm at Burnley Youth Theatre, Queen's Park Road. Tickets can be booked on www.ticketsource.co.uk