THE story of a former social worker and his remarkable bond with a group of dispossessed children unfolds in an immersive, large-scale performance in a Leeds warehouse.

Told in verse, The Shed Crew is adapted by playwright Kevin Fegan from Bernard Hare’s book, Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew.

Hare, the son of a mining family, returned to his estate in Leeds in the 1990s after becoming disillusioned working as a social worker in London. Back in Leeds he met ‘Urban’ and was introduced to the Shed Crew, a group of children who had fallen through the cracks. The only grown-up they trusted was ‘Chop’, their unlikely mentor, who introduced them to the arts, and learned far more from them in return. Hare was inspired by a BBC documentary made in the area to write his memoir and show the reality of life for a socially excluded community.

Staged by Red Ladder Theatre Company, the darkly funny stage adaptation is set in the techno-thumping ‘90s. When Chop meets charismatic Urban, an illiterate 12-year-old with a talent for words and a penchant for glue-sniffing and firebombing, he enters the inner-circle of the Shed Crew; a group of young runaways and joyriders seeking sanctuary from inner-city life in a shed. Kevin describes Chop and Urban’s relationship as “like a buddy movie”.

“It’s a strange pairing of a middle-aged man and a 12-year-old boy who go on a wild trip, with the Shed Crew as the chorus,” says Kevin. “It’s the warts and all honesty I most admire, and the humanity - Hare tells the good and the bad because that’s the truth. He includes himself in that. It’s not about how we can go marching in and help, it’s what we can take from these kids and their experiences. There’s a lot in The Shed Crew for us to learn.”

The play is performed by eight northern actors. Bradford-born Tanya Vital plays the roles of Greta, mum to Urban and Frank, and also Pinky, a member of the Shed Crew. “Greta has been chewed up and spat out by the system. In and out of jail, ravaged by addiction - a lost soul,” says Tanya. “Pinky is the artist of the bunch. She can be philosophical and has deep chats with Chop. She has the gift of seeing the bigger picture. Art helps to open her world up.”

For Tanya, the appeal of The Shed Crew is that it tells it like it is. “I knew people like Urban and Greta, some are still around, stuck in that world and some sadly are not around anymore,” she says. 2The life they lead I imagine seems too far-fetched to be reality, but for many people it’s normal. The story doesn’t try to either sensationalise or make apologies. It is what it is.

“There are certain stories that don’t belong in a beautifully lit, warm black box with velvet chairs. This is one of those stories; you need to be fully immersed and open for a journey.”

Rod Dixon, Red Ladder artistic director, says, “As one of Britain’s leading radical theatre companies, this story is one that Red Ladder still needs to tell - vast sections of society across Britain exist in extreme poverty; forgotten communities living parallel lives in austerity against the glossy veneer of commerce and consumerism. We’re thrilled to have the Albion Electrics warehouse as a venue in which we will immerse people into this world - one from which we can all learn about ‘survival’ and family and the power of humanity and the arts.”

* The Shed Crew runs at Albion Electric Warehouse, Leeds, from September 21 to October 1. For tickets call (0113) 213 7700 or visit