The Manchester theatre scene is resplendent with great theatres, great actors and great plays that often transcends boundaries. However, we forget that the Manchester theatre scene also celebrates what it is to be from Manchester. Having had the pleasure to attend the Where We Are Double Bill performance recently, it brought home the hard work put in by Monkeywood Theatre and Take Back Theatre in creating productions that intrinsically speak to a Mancunian audience and the support from Home Manchester in allowing such productions to be part of their programme.
Where We Are was a double bill of productions. The first was This Is Where We Are, Not Where We Always Have To Be By Take Back Theatre, which took a look at the consequences of one action and what it had on the people of Manchester by examining several individual characters. The second half was The Manchester Project by Monkeywood Theatre, which I’ve had the fortune to watch before, and features 19, tiny, titanic and thunderous plays in an hour exploring what it means to be all things Manchester.
Both these productions are stripped down to its core element, the story. There are no embellishments such as props, or scenery or costume. It is ethereal as you can get, just an actor and their script.
Take Back Theatre was the brainchild of actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, writer Becx Harrison and visual artist Grant Archer and it was their collective response to the politics of austerity. Their original intention was to commission productions that was a direct response to the social and political events that were affecting the lives of ordinary people. In This Is Where We Are you have a writer – Rebeckah Harrison – who started this piece prior to the Manchester Arena Bombings of 2017 and finished it in its aftermath. And it is a telling piece of theatre.
Performed by Nadia Emam and Darren Jeffries, its a socially charged production that doesn’t pull any punches. It is matter of fact and direct. The story of a tragic event and how it affects random people is one that has been played out before and in this instance we can forgive the flaws – for Harrison and Take Back Theatre are creating pieces that we can all identify with, that speak to us of the social and political happenings that we are living through and is likely to strike more than a chord than the likes of watching another version of an Ibsen classic.
Likewise, Monkeywood Theatre are unashamedly Mancunian. Their works have tried to explore the themes of the city and what it to live in Manchester. What’s more their productions have centred on groups and communities whose stories aren’t usually told onstage, and this is something to be lauded given that theatre audiences are sometimes not as diverse as they could be!
Making up the holy trinity in this adventure is Home Manchester, who deserve credit for supporting the local scene. I have often found so many theatres trying to either play it safe by putting on the same old tired productions or that try to be over ambitious and produce big scale shows that are designed to maximise profits.
The double bill showcasing the best of Manchester might have been short and sweet but it is vital that productions such as this are part of the rich tapestry that makes Manchester’s theatre a vibrant and celebrated landscape.
Verdict: A double bill of shows that celebrates what it is to be Mancunian, telling stories that look at the social and political consequences on communities in Manchester.