Growing up gay and working class in north Norfolk - playwright’s autobiographical work at Holt Festival

James McDermott with the Holt Festival brochure.  Pictured at Wells Deli in Holt, where he works part-time. Pictures: David Bale

James McDermott with the Holt Festival brochure. Pictured at Wells Deli in Holt, where he works part-time. Pictures: David Bale


What it’s like to grow up gay and working class in seemingly affluent north Norfolk.

That’s the autobiographical story behind James McDermott’s hit play, Rubber Ring, which is a highlight of the Holt Festival.

The 23-year-old lives just a mile from Holt in High Kelling and will perform his show at the Auden Theatre on July 30.

The show was a big hit at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and since then has toured the country to great acclaim.

Set in Sheringham, it tells the tale of a Morrissey obsesse d teenager who is struggling with sexual and regional identity.

Born in Weybourne, Mr McDermott went to school in Lincolnshire but returned to the UEA where he got an MA in scriptwriting. His parents Shaun and Marie McDermott own the vintage clothes shop, Worn Out in Sheringham.

A part-time worker at Wells Deli in Holt High Street, he said: “Rural gay stories are not represented in Norfolk, and nor is the rural gay identity. Hopefully the play will help the audience feel less invisible.

“I’ve been surprised at the reaction to the play from non-gay people and non-Norfolk people.

“I find Norfolk a great metaphor for Britain. From the outside it looks picturesque, but inside there’s the claustrophobia and all the maladies of Britain.

“On the smaller level Norfolk is a beautiful place, but there are lots of things going on underneath that are grittier. There are the council estates and the drug problems. There’s a real working class mentality, and that’s the underbelly of Norfolk.”

He’s been a Smiths and Morrissey fan since he listened to the song, Cemetery Gates, which references one of his heroes, Oscar Wilde.

He’s now writing a play about Cromer Pier for a Soho theatre.

He added: “It’s a cafe on the end of the pier, and it’s about the staff and their struggle to leave Norfolk at the end of the season. I’m setting up a theatre company which will perform working class plays, who are unrepresented people.

“Upper class and wealthy people might have more time to work in theatre, without having to work part-time as I do, but working class people are hungrier for it. They don’t feel theatre is their birthright and they have a passion for it.”

He’s most looking forward to seeing Jasper Carrott at the festival.

Rubber Ring is on at 6pm on July 30, tickets: £15 / £5 concessions, box-office 01603 598699 or

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