Star rating – 6/10
I am a real fan of the Library Theatre’s adventures in different venues while it waits for a permanent home, and absolutely loved Hard Times in Murrays’ Mills last year. This time it’s a modern office block in the shape of Number One First Street, usually full of Council workers, but temporarily also housing a strange kind of Lost Property Office.
Manchester Lines is a bit like a collection of short stories, all with the theme of loss. John Branwell is fabulous as Eugene, the manager of the Lost Property Office, who finds himself as much a keeper of lost souls, as any practical part of his actual job description. There are some lovely and very touching performances, especially Anne Kidd as Jessie, the elderly woman with dementia who forgets everyday details but who is haunted by the baby daughter she gave away years before. And Claire Brown as Pauline, the grown up version of the baby who was adopted, and who seems to be developing some of the same frailties as her birth mother.
My favourite part was played by Tachia Newall as Omar, a young West Indian man, who keeps on losing his umbrella, perhaps to encounter Eugene all over again. He is really very talented and very funny in his portrayal of this warm but needy character. And special mention also must go to Marcquelle Ward as Pauline’s teenage son Louis - definitely one to watch.
But sadly, I don’t usually find short stories satisfying enough for my appetites, with a few notable exceptions like Chekov, who I have recently discovered to my joy. They leave me feeling hungry for more and a bit short changed. And that is an apt way to describe how I felt after seeing this play. The stories of the characters didn't all knit together too well, resulting in an uneven story.
It is a great setting and they have made use of some lovely props, and packed it full of local references, but overall this felt like something of a missed opportunity. The musical numbers were not quite strong enough, although the actual singing was lovely. And a great choir was underused – and only came in at end. It isn’t really a promenade production – the only walking bits are on the way in and on the way out.
Some of the more poignant stories of loss and kindness suffered for other elements being a bit too telegraphed, and lacking in the subtlety needed to be more meaningful and hard hitting.