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Sophie's story: Simon Armitage stage play is latest elegy to murdered goth

  • @matildbattersby

Sophie Lancaster, the young woman killed in a Lancashire park in 2007 for being a goth, has inspired a series of artistic tributes, the latest of which is a stage play about her tragically short life.

An award-winning radio drama about the murdered 20-year-old written by poet Simon Armitage will be staged at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Coronation Street actress Julie Hesmondhalgh will play Sophie’s mother Sylvia in the production, Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, and Sophie will be played by Rachel Austin who voiced her in the radio version.

The radio play, which was written by Armitage after he spent three days talking to Sylvia, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last March.

Multiple prize-winning poet and author Armitage told the BBC that the reaction to the radio play “was greater than for any other project I’ve ever been involved with”.

He said: “People were phoning in to the BBC switchboard on the day, writing in, emailing, getting messages to me afterwards about how much they’d been affected by the whole thing.”

Five teenage boys attacked Sophie's boyfriend Robert Maltby,21, in Bacup park on a Friday night. Sophie intervened during the unprovoked attack, cradling Robert in her arms and begging them to stop, before two of the attackers kicked and stamped on her.

Both Sophie and Robert were taken to hospital badly injured, but Sophie died two weeks later.

Ryan Herbert, 16, and Brendan Harris, 15, were convicted of murdering Sophie in April 2008 and sentenced to 16 and 18-year minimum jail terms respectively.

Robert was the first to pay tribute to Sophie artistically when in 2010 he exhibited a collection of his paintings titled ‘Crimson Iris: The Art of Sophie’ to raise money for an anti-hatred foundation set up in her name.

He told The Independent at the time: “Even though the iris is a symbol of faith, hope and wisdom, the unnatural colour [red] symbolises violence, anger and danger."

Armitage got in touch with Sophie’s mother after reading about the trial. After several days of speaking to her he decided to give Sophie a voice “because she could no longer speak for herself” .

Actress Hesmondhalgh, who plays transsexual character Hayley Cropper in the ITV soap Coronation Street, says the stage retelling of Armitage’s play will present Sophie’s life in a new way.

"[It] gives you a very three dimensional look into what she was like as a baby and a child and a teenager and about their relationship," she told the BBC. "I think because of that, you feel the loss even more strongly. She's a fully rounded person and you lose her too."

Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, 19-29 September, Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester; www.sophielancasterfoundation.com