I’ve never really understood why January has been consigned to the history bin of inconsequence. It really is very, very bleak. The excesses of December have given way to the banality of the new year. There are no more bright sparkling lights anywhere. The streets are empty and the folks are all at home, skint and living on the fag ends of what’s leftover from the food and booze of Christmas. Everyone is content to get their heads down and see the month through in some sort of short enforced hibernation. Yet, if you can be bothered to put your head above those snuggly warm covers, you will see that not everyone has given up on January.
Home Manchester, for instance, are refusing to put their feet up after a hefty, hearty festive period. They’ve put on the afterburners with the launch of Push 2018, a two week long festival showcasing some of the most exciting film, theatre and visual arts from the region. Home have this year commissioned four brand new theatre pieces especially for this festival, which includes The Manchester Project.
It’s 19 plays about all things Mancunian. In one show.
Yes. 19, tiny, titanic and thunderous plays in an hour exploring what it means to be all things Manchester. Overseeing this project are Monkeywood Theatre, who make no bones about being a Manchester theatre company. They live there. They work there. They play there. They are Manchester through and through. As part of The Manchester Project they have commissioned 19 “astounding Mancunian writers” to write these short productions asking what does it mean to be a Mancunian? What is it like to live in Manchester?
Producing such a variety of short pieces is beset with a multitude of pitfalls. Piecing these together to form a unifying narrative can sometimes be sacrificed so that you end up with 19 disparate pieces that in their own right are illuminating but together are somewhat lacklustre. Fortunately for us Monkeywood have woven a thread through these 19 short plays focussing on the places which range from “Moss Side to Middleton, Flixton to Failsworth, Droylsden to Didsbury” to give us the rich tapestry of Mancunia.
Reuben Johnson opens proceedings with his work entitled Little Hulton. It’s a rapturous beginning, as he waxes lyrical about Little Hulton, its poetic dialogue intensifying with every uttered beat. It’s the kind of hippity hoppity style and vibe that seems to be missing in theatre and highlights exactly the kind of feel The Manchester Project is hoping to cultivate.
Bringing to life these 19 places are six performers, most of whom have also written for this project. In addition to Johnson, we have Curtis Cole (who wittily dispels commonly held stereotypes of Mosside to a Spanish tourist), Sarah McDonald Hughes (who talks about growing up in Flixton), James Quinn (who theorizes about the five breeds of Withington people), Eve Steele (who speaks of the lure of the brights light of the city) and RADA trained Meriel Schofield.
And for the most part The Manchester project is unashamedly Manchester. Warts and all. It positively revels in it. There is a symphonic humdrum to the plays, that touch on the places, the people, the situations, that range from getting a chippy tea in Middleton to waiting for a tram at Cornbrook. Add to that the subtle soundtrack that celebrate some of Manchester’s legendary music makers that include Joy Division, The Smiths and Oasis, this is a production that screams Manchester.
And I loved it.
For I’m one of those Mancunians. I’ve lived here. I’ve grown up here. I work here. I know the people that they speak of, those Mancs that live in the places that they talk of. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s overlook the small blemishes and celebrate a production that only comes along once in a while that has the ability to strike a chord with the audience. This isn’t just a show about the people that have written it, it is about you and me. And that my dear reader is something to cheer in this the dullest of months.
Verdict: A compendium of short plays that celebrate the people and the places of Manchester, featuring stories that most of us will relate to from visiting chippies in Middleton to catching the tram at Cornbrook. This deserves a week long residency rather than its extremely short run. It really is top banana!