Inspector Norse and the knitted autopsy

Article published: Tuesday, July 31st 2012

Manchester-based group the Lip Service Theatre Company is planning what can only be assumed will be the first knitted autopsy to take place on a UK stage, with a little help from Chorlton’s Tea Hive. Sarah Adie discovers the lowdown on its latest play, crime thriller Inspector Norse.

A woolly jumper sported by a character in a TV series seems a rather unlikely source of inspiration for a stage play in the UK. But that’s exactly where the idea came from for Inspector Norse, the Manchester-based Lip Service Theatre Company’s latest dramatic endeavour.

Billed as a self-assembly Swedish crime thriller, the seeds for this new play – to be taken on tour around the UK early next year – were sown during an episode of Danish series The Killing. The two members of the theatre group, Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, found themselves very taken with the Faroe sweater worn by lead detective Sarah Lund and started pondering the idea of a production with a knitted set.

As the story goes so far – the plot is still under discussion so all is not revealed as yet – a former pop star takes herself off into the Swedish countryside to escape the trappings of celebrity life and becomes something of a recluse, living in a house where absolutely everything is knitted, right down to the tiles on the roof. There she stays in peace and quiet until one day she discovers a body in the woods and has to call in a female detective and her male sidekick to come and solve the murder.

“We thought, if there’s going to be a body, perhaps it could be knitted,” Maggie says. “We could do the first-ever knitted autopsy. I started doing research into knitted body parts and found that there are lots of knitted intestines. Someone even knitted a digestive system – apparently, it’s really common for medical students to knit their own body parts to help them learn.”

Always keen to include the local community in their work, Maggie and Sue decided to set up a knitting group at the Tea Hive in Chorlton so people could contribute to the set, making leaves, icicles and other props. “I feel like we’re tapping into a very rich theme” said Maggie, adding that she had no idea just how popular knitting had become. “We keep getting leaves shoved under our door and we don’t know who they’re from. It’s quite sweet, really”.

And it’s not just Manchester’s knitting finest helping the show go on – one woman in Brighton has volunteered to knit the Faroe jumper for the lead detective, while someone in the Cotswolds has been truly inspired and is knitting a coffee pot that pours knitted coffee.

“What’s really nice is that women are coming with their daughters and they’re learning to knit. I’m not a knitter and I’ve had a go and it wasn’t a complete disaster,” added Maggie.

The play also looks set to have a lasting effect on the Manchester craft scene, with the Tea Hive knitting group likely to grow and continue, long after the curtain falls on Inspector Norse. A community choir – which featured in a previous Lip Service production, Desperate to be Doris – has also picked up its knitting needles and sent in a leaf or two.

Knitting aside, it certainly sounds as though Maggie and Sue’s quirky sense of humour – for which the double act is renowned – will be in full force for Inspector Norse. Plans are apparently being kicked around to introduce a delinquent moose into proceedings, stumbling about drunk on fermented apples. As Maggie says, however, they’re still writing at the moment so it might all change completely.

“Between now and 15 October – when rehearsals start – anything could happen”, she predicted.

Sarah Adie

Inspector Norse opens on 15 January 2013 in Bristol, before heading to Oldham Coliseum and the Lowry at Easter. More information can be found on the Lip Service Theatre website. The knitting group meets fortnightly at Tea Hive Cafe in Chorlton with the next scheduled for Wednesday 1 August.

This article first appeared on the Now Then Manchester blog.

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