Creator of Say Yes to Tess, Tess Seddon, shares with us her experience of running for parliament and creating a musical about it. Catch it at CPT from Thursday 24 March – Saturday 16 April 2022
Most people go to the pub or join a club to get away from their housemates, but you ran for Parliament? What on earth possessed you?
Ha! Good question. If I’m honest it started because I wanted to write a play about the Yorkshire Party so I went undercover to one of their Party conferences. There were some fairly eccentric talks about the boundary changes of 1974, the lack of Yorkshire accents in CBEEBIES and there was even a cow herder from Friesland there. However in the afternoon they did a policy making session. They were all sat around planning what they would do if they were in power despite having very little chance of ever getting any. It made me think twice about my own cynicism. Maybe it’s better to try. Then a few months later Theresa May called a snap general election and the Yorkshire Party tweeted ‘anyone want to stand?’ I thought it was funny so I re-tweeted it and then they messaged me asking why don’t you? We met in Café 164 near Leeds Playhouse and when they asked why not I couldn’t think of a good enough reason…
Why the Yorkshire Party?
I originally thought it was a strange idea- of all the problems in the world why would you fight for Yorkshire to have it’s own parliament? I thought it was all blokes in flat caps with whippets. However when I researched further I discovered the UK is the most centralised government in Europe. This means most of our taxes go to Westminster to then be divided up. As a result there are huge differences in mortality rates, transport, education funding and more. I also thought it was hopeful to be fighting for a more representative democracy at a time when people’s faith in democracy was plummeting.
What surprised you most about the experience?
So many surprises and funny experiences! Knocking on people’s doors was wild! One man invited me in. I probably shouldn’t have gone in because he was wearing full camoflauge gear but I was excited! He spoke about Oliver Cromwell to me for 45 minutes until I made my escape.
Did it give you a new perspective on politics and politicians?
100%! It made me in awe of everyone that stands. It’s a huge time and energy commitment and you are really putting yourself out there saying this is what I believe in. (Whether I share their beliefs or not!) It made me think that our political system really doesn’t allow for more than 2 parties and how limiting that is. How it leads to shouting matches rather than conversations.
Would you do it again?
Never say never but I think I feel most passionate about bigger changes than Tess Seddon being Prime Minister….changing the voting system and encouraging more people to participate.
Your experiences led to a new musical – Say Yes To Tess. Why a musical? (Especially as you say you’re not the strongest soprano in the choir!)
Yes I am a terrible singer! So bad that my school music teacher banned me from singing in choir. But don’t worry I’m not singing! My experience of politics felt like a musical. Everyone I met felt like they were singing passionately at me. I felt like I’d entered a different world. In the show I ask whose voices are heard in our system. Singing is the perfect metaphor plus it was really important to Harry Blake (composer and co-director) and I that this show was a lot of fun for everyone whether they liked politics or not.
Harry Blake has written the songs – was it a close collaboration? What did he bring to the party?
Harry Blake brought the party! His songs are amazing and he is a true joy to work with! He manages to encompass the whole journey – they are hilarious, surprising, uplifting and moving. I couldn’t imagine making this show with anyone else. We’ve been working on this show for 5 years now. He was with me at the town hall when my votes were counted (we were in technical rehearsals that week for ‘Ode to Leeds’ at Leeds Playhouse) and he’s been with me through what feels like a 1000 drafts. It’s really exciting to be co-directing the show with him as he’s so driven by music and rhythm.
What can audiences expect to see – and hear?
Think politics meets show biz! Harry’s songs range from Broadway to disco to rousing Yorkshire anthems and are performed insanely well by our amazingly talented cast. Kofi Dennis, Purvi Parmar, Andrew Whitehead playing the Yorkshire Party, my nightmare housemate and Dad. The music is played live by our musical director Jamie Noar who also plays my ex-boyfriend. I’m in it playing myself! Ruta Irbite has designed the show around 4 voting booths that contain plenty of surprises. We’re having a lot of fun with playing with the shimmery curtains. The costumes are all a little bit heightened to help with multi-roling and the feeling that Tess has stepped into another world. The lighting by Amy Mae is going to be really playful – think big musical on a small scale. Yukiko Masui is creating hilarious character led choreography. And Vicky Ackroyd has worked with on making the script have integrated audio description so blind and visually impaired people will be able to experience the show.
Finally, why should people say yes to Tess?
They are going to have a truly great night out that leaves them feeling better about the world than when they arrived.