The curtain is about to go up on a controversial new play about life in Burnley following the 2001 riots. We spoke to the director of Mixed Up North — one of Britain’s leading theatre directors — Max Stafford-Clark.

MAX Stafford-Clark has become a champion of new writing with his own highly-acclaimed touring company Out of Joint, famed for its "verbatim" documentary plays.

Their subject matter is never run of the mill. Mixed Up North being a particularly good example. The brave move to tackle the issues surrounding the aftermath of the race riots in Burnley came after Stafford-Clark went to a talk about racism.

“One of the speakers was saying it’s no good expecting people from a different ethnic minority to join a club that is a white institution and so what we need to do is create new institutions,” said the 68 year-old former director of the renowned Royal Court in London.

“The talk mentioned how Lancashire community groups were endeavouring to create viable youth groups drawing on all sections of society. So we went to see for ourselves and decided the subject would make a brilliant verbatim play.”

Based on real events, Mixed Up North, set in Burnley, is a funny and moving new play about the difficulties of uniting divided racial communities.

Inspired by the Burnley riots, the play — about to start a tour of the country — is based on conversations held in the town between 2007 and 2008. Stafford-Clark, joined by staff from his company, Out of Joint, interviewed Burnley residents, youth groups, shop owners and businessmen and women and used the material to devise the script by Robin Soans.

The play-about-a-play focuses on a Burnley youth group putting on a show about mixed relationships with an underlying mission to bring harmony to the town. As the 'cast’ assembles for a dress rehearsal, they demonstrate a picture of Burnley since the 2001 riots: a place of economic hardship, boredom and low self-esteem among the young, of sporadic violence, according to the script.

But with missing props, broken speakers and a leading man with attitude, it soon becomes clear it’s going to be a tough task to get this particular show on the road. The plot sees a cast member walk out mid-show and ruin the performance, making way for a public Q&A session that highlights the divisions between those addressing Burnley's problems and those seeking to improve its public image.

Mixed Up North was originally created by and starred students from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) as part of their graduate projects and has already been played to packed theatres across London.

The version, coming to Bolton Octagon in September brings a cast of 13, including some of the founder members as well as some new actors more suitable to the roles. One addition is Nelson born actor Muzz Khan, who featured in the hit film East Is East.

The 27-year-old grew up in Railway Street, Nelson, the youngest of four siblings, and attended Edge End High School, Nelson, and Accrington and Rossendale College before moving to drama school in London, where he still lives.

He plays the part of ex-con Uday.

“My character’s journey is that of a young man who got involved with all the wrong people in his youth and ended up in prison,” said Muzz.

“What's great about this play is that it's verbatim theatre. It's fantastic to hear all these accounts from the people of Burnley brought to the forefront.

“The fact that a company of Out Of Joint's stature was doing such a play so close to home for me was unbelievable “The issues raised affect most of Lancashire. I don't want to give too much away but there are stories in this play that need to be heard.”

Mixed Up North also touches on the BNP and key socio-economical issues and topics, including shocking insights into “grooming”, the exploitation of underage white girls by Asian men, the subject of which formed a Lancashire Telegraph ‘Keep Them Safe’ campaign.

And while Muzz is an actor by trade, this role has far more significance for him than simply his next career move.

He added: “In my opinion, this is one of the most important pieces of theatre writing that will ever be written about Burnley and, indeed, Lancashire, so it's important that all members of the community come, watch and get involved. My personal wish is that it will help us put our problems aside and allow us all to unite.”

Stafford-Clark, who has a successful directing career spanning more than 40 years, says he loves this new play about Burnley.

“I’d never been to Burnley before. I stayed there in April 2007. We really got close to some of the people we spoke to. They were very friendly and warm.”

Practising his Burnley accent, he tells me the second half of the play focuses on “don’t diss Burnley.”

After years as artistic director at various theatres across the country, Stafford-Clark says it is his recent work with Out Of Joint — launched in 1994 — has enabled him to put his heart and soul into his work.

“I love travelling,” said the father-of-one. “Now that my daughter is older it’s easier to do and with our touring company we can do just two plays a year that we really love, rather than having to put on 16, with some that you can’t relate to, if you are a static theatre.

“Now I don’t do anything I’m not in love with and this subject fascinates me.

"We hope to shed a light on issues that are specific to Burnley but also bring the work to a London theatre-going community, which will be a real eye opener for them.

“In time we will be doing an education pack on the play and there will be workshops across Lancashire on the issues raised.

“Our primary purpose with Out Of Joint is to create good theatre, with both new and established writers, but we also aim to address issues and help where we can.”

l MIXED UP NORTH — Bolton Octagon on September 10-26. For tickets contact the box office on 01204 520 661.