Star rating - 7/10
One of the joys of the Library Theatre's current homeless status has been their peripatetic productions which have used the magnificent buildings of Manchester to great effect. But don't expect me to reveal where their new play takes place - it is in a very secret location which is only revealed after the audience assembles in a car park in the Northern Quarter. That's all I can give away. This new production by writer Polly Wiseman finds linking themes between two very different but defining moments in Manchester's history - the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, and the late 80's 'Madchester' clubbing scene.
I have to say I was curious about how the two themes would hang together. One is an historic tragedy of epic proportion, where a peaceful protest by working class Mancuians seeking the vote was violently and fatally broken up. Troops, armed with sharpened sabres, and acting on the orders of local magistrates, charged the large crowd, wounding over 650 people and killing eighteen protesters. The other was a heady time for younger club goers, not just centred around the famous Hacienda club, but taking place in venues across the city. Madchester was both a sound, and possibly more importantly, an attitude of defiance and pride.
The action flits between the two, starting off with actors posing as clubbers mingling with the audience, checking their stashes, and using phrases like 'mad for it' and 'banging' as the assembly on the car park unfolds. I always really admire actors who perform in promenade performances, especially when they are required to interact so much with the audience, as well as keep in character. It's all the more impressive here as they have to keep in two totally separate characters, either E dropping ravers, or Victorian protesters, and back again.
The location itself is magnificent, and its many floors are well used by the action. It's perhaps a pity then when some of the changes of scene are a bit disjointed and don't hang together very smoothly. A fair bit of time is wasted just getting to the next scene, which is a pity. But the cast are great, Janey Lawson and Rachel Austin are worthy of particular note. And it's not every day you get to see a former rugby league player in an acting capacity, but Adam Fogerty is genuinely scary both as a nightclub thug, and an angry police chief.
The theme of being free to express yourself is the linking one, and it could possibly have been brought out a little earlier in the play, and a little more forcefully. Some of the scenes where the two worlds collide work well, some are less successful. Overall the Peterloo Massacre bits are very much the stronger. But it's a very enjoyable experience, and praise should go to the Library Theatre and Director Paul Jepson for another inventive, site specific play which is another love letter to this wonderful city and the people in it.