"FROM THE way people speak, you can still almost say who they vote for and where they come from," says Vicky Featherstone. "The English language is still often about class and perception, often in the worst sense."
Featherstone is the outgoing artistic director of Paines Plough, the innovative touring and new-writing company. Having been born in Scotland but brought up in India, she knows a bit about the way language defines people, and the dramatic possibilities of this on stage. Yet it took Melvyn Bragg's Radio 4 series The Roots of English - about the history and development of English and its dialects - to crystallise her thoughts into an ambitious project, This Other England.
Ten playwrights were commissioned to write about language; the first four works - by Enda Walsh, Douglas Maxwell, Philip Ridley and David Grieg - are being produced at the Menier Chocolate Factory. "Language has inspired these playwrights to think about identity and nationhood in a way that would never have happened had we demanded a state-of-the-nation play," she says.
In The Small Things, Walsh imagines a dictatorship in a small Lancashire village that has cut out everyone's tongues in the pursuit of silence, leaving only two people able to speak in a mangled, heightened language inspired by the Ribble regional dialect. Walsh says he wrote the play "as a means of escaping my own educated, media voice, but also to explore words themselves: what they are, …