Highly Inflammable – Poly Styrene in Hastings, by Cheryl White
A play inspired by Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex is coming to St Mary in the Castle in June. Here Cheryl White, who wrote Highly Inflammable, tells us how this punk legend from St. Leonard’s inspired a teenager living in the cultural desert of South Australia.
X-Ray Spex came into my life when I was about 14. As a young punk growing up in Adelaide, their songs about identity, consumerism and breaking out were a rallying cry that has guided my politics and record collection ever since. (Much to the regret of my Baptist parents whose hatred of my punk phase forced me to hide my DMs at a friend’s house.)
When I moved to St Leonards a few years ago, I joined a local theatre group which was developing plays about historically famous women from the area. There were lots of Victorian ladies to choose from but I only had eyes for one amazing punk rocker – Marianne Elliot-Said, AKA Poly Styrene.
Poly moved to North Street, St Leonards in the early noughties and worked on her last album at a studio in Robertson Street. But her connection to the area goes way back. It was on Hastings pier that 18-year old Marianne watched a gig by the then-unknown Sex Pistols. Inspired, she formed X-Ray Spex and Poly Styrene was born.
My play ‘Highly Inflammable’ is not biographical. I would never dream of putting words into the mouth of such an erudite and visionary thinker. Instead it weaves Poly’s ideas, lyrics and songs into the action. In fact, the play is structured around the Spex’s most famous song ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours’.
As I’ve walked around H&SL, delivering flyers to cafes and shops, I’ve chatted with so many people who knew Marianne. I’ve heard stories from people who bought her sofa, or did a dissertation on ‘Oh Bondage’ or swapped vegetarian recipes with Poly in the cafés. Without exception, everyone said she was lovely, friendly and generous.
Sadly, Marianne died at St Michael’s Hospice in 2011. To recognise this, the production team behind Highly Inflammable will be supporting St Michael’s. At the event on the 10th June at St Mary in the Castle St Michael’s have been invited to raffle Poly’s keyboard and other items generously donated by her friends. An exhibition of original art work inspired by Poly, memorabilia and a recording of her last interview will also be on display in St Mary’s crypt, rounding out what we hope will be wonderful tribute to this trailblazing woman.
Highly Inflammable, an original play written by Cheryl White, inspired by Poly Styrene. Saturday 10th June 2017, St Mary in the Castle. Tickets £12/£10 concession, available at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings Tourist Board or Facebook/@polystyreneplay.