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Jackie Hagan, writer of ‘The Forest of Forgotten Discos’, on why true representation matters

The festive season is looming ever closer, and Contact is dusting down its glitter ball and ironing its spandex all in preparation for its journey into ‘The Forest of Forgotten Discos’.

Running from December 11-23 (tickets here) at the intimate and award-winning Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, this year’s Contact Christmas offering – integrating sign language and visual storytelling into all its performances – is perfect for the whole family.

The show focuses on a mystery in the forest that sees everyone forgetting about dancing and discos. A cranky bear with a secret comes across a young girl named Red, and everything changes forever.

As a poet, comedian, theatre-maker, and self-proclaimed “flirtatious amputee”, Jackie Hagan can do it all. The writer behind ‘The Forest of Forgotten Discos’, critically-acclaimed writer, Hagan writes about the experiences of people who have been vilified or made invisible with humour and sensitivity.

Jackie Hagan shares her thoughts below on why it’s so important to create work that celebrates people left out of the mainstream.


There is a feeling I wish we had a word for, it’s how you feel when someone puts into words something you’ve been trying to say for ages. It’s akin to taking your bra (or your leg) off after a long day.

There’s another feeling, it’s related to that one only bigger, and it’s the feeling the first time we see someone like us on telly, on stage, in a book, the first time our secret inner life is out there, people walking round telling our story as if that’s a valid story to tell, as if we are, in fact, important.

It’s the moment a toddler opening a present realises that doll looks just like them, is black like them, has one leg like them. It’s the experiential increase in people coming out the week after Brookside showed the first lesbian kiss. It’s a little girl knowing she can be a Time-lord. It’s knowing you are real and society values you.

It only works, this thing, when the person telling the story knows what they’re talking about. Writers can do research, we have to, but when you’ve experienced something, a story about it only hits you in the heart with the same veracity if the storyteller is speaking from real, visceral experience.

There’s another type of story, those stories that aren’t ours, that are so very far away from our own lives we can’t start to imagine.

Even the most well travelled can only know so much, the person with the most diverse group of close friends. The person who is the very best at getting people at bus stops to open up. How much of someone’s story will they let you know even once you’ve gained their trust?

Theatre, the media, literature, any type of storytelling is a shot in the arm – people’s life mainlined to take to heart and mind, to remember and use when your critical faculties are called into play on life’s big and so-called little issues.

There’s no point in having excellent reasoning skills if you can’t call on empathy if you don’t know what’s actually happening to people. You can read all the newspapers you want but those human moments that change minds and shift the soul those couple of millimetres enough to make you understand. That’s the thing.

That’s why we need to keep pushing for opportunities for diverse writers, actors, directors, makers to get the chance, the confidence, the right people in their team to make the stories effectively and honestly. We can’t afford to be watered down. There’s a mainstream narrative that’s been told for years and it’s stagnant and it’s making society dangerous. Stories shape us, we need to make sure we’re telling the right ones. We need a democratic storytelling system.

It’s an uphill battle and we need to stick together if we’re to be bolstered enough, we can’t afford to be in competition with each other, we need to back each other up, all of us whose stories aren’t told.

We’re important. We need to remind each other of that, in every way we can find.

‘The Forest of Forgotten Discos’ is written by Jackie Hagan and directed by Nickie Miles-Wildin. The show runs from December 11-23 at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre. Tickets are available here.

Written by Jackie Hagan

Jackie Hagan is a working-class queer disabled poet, performer and theatre-maker and a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellow. Her work focuses on celebrating the experiences of people left out of the mainstream. She is also the writer of 'The Forest of Forgotten Discos', running from December 11-23 at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. Book tickets here.

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