A Manchester Pantomime With A Difference

If there is one issue that most Mancunians would like to tackle, then that is the issue of homelessness. Those that live, work or just visit the region cannot escape the plight of those sleeping rough in alleyways or doorways. Recently, however, there’s been a conscious effort to genuinely help those in need in Manchester, and the local arts scene is very much playing it’s part. At the forefront of this is The Edge Theatre in Chorlton, whose work with The Booth Centre raises awareness of these issues.

When Andy Burnham was elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester, one of his key election pledges was to end rough sleeping by 2020. It was something that galvanised voters in the region and whilst it seems that there are even more cardboard boxes, tents and other makeshift shelters popping up in doorways than ever before, there have been a range of schemes announced in a bid to help the vulnerable.

The arts can sometimes feel itself cocooned in a world of its own without the harsh realities of society being allowed in. Sometimes we need the arts to forget about the outside world for an hour or two, but sometimes the arts can be a liberating force to not only help those in need but to also be a force for good.

This is where The Edge Theatre and its wonderful work with The Booth Centre comes in. It runs regular drama and singing workshops at the Booth Centre for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The CEO of the Booth Centre, Amanda Croome MBE lauds the capacity of theatre to make a difference in people’s lives:

“The drama has a transforming effect…Many members of the group have moved into employment, to take up education and training courses or have entered detox, as a direct result of the boost that got from working with The Edge”

With this in mind I ventured along to watch their traditional Christmas Pantomime, It’s Behind You, which featured a cast comprising of the very people who are at risk or are homeless. It’s an apt choice according to Oscar winning thespian and patron, Sir Mark Rylance:

“Christmas is a time of joy and celebration – getting together and being part of a family and circle of friends. But for many people it is a time when feelings of loneliness and isolation are worse than ever…The work we do here makes people feel less isolated, less lonely, less of an outsider and part of a community – our community”

I’ll be honest though. I’ve never been a massive fan of pantomimes and I can safely say that I’ve not been miraculously converted having watched director and writer Jannine Waters’ yuletide offering. Nonetheless, it’s exactly what any good old pantomime should be, full of jokes that probably make you groan and laugh at the same time, lots of colourful costumery, a charmingly effusive plot and plenty of audience interaction.

However, what really struck me about this pantomime was how communal it is. The songs play a huge part in this, and the choice of musical tracks should be commended – especially ‘We do like to be beside the Seaside’, which in its very essence is a communal crowd pleasing singalong. By the end, when the cast is taking on Slade’s classic ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, everyone in the small auditorium is singing at the top of their voices.

‘It’s Behind You’ might have finished it’s run but it embodies exactly the kind of work you can expect from the award winning Edge Theatre. It’s a quirky organisation based in a 19th Century former Red Cross Hospital in Chorlton and its innovative programme prides itself on being inclusive to all in society – and that really does deserve a pat on the back.