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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Poetry - The Masque of Anarchy - The Albert Hall, Manchester International Festival

Star rating - 8/10

There were three real stars of this brief but impressive event - Shelley's original poem, written as an immediate response to the horrific Peterloo Massacre of 1819; Maxine Peake, pouring emotion and anger into her recital of the verse; and the venue itself, a fabulous Grade II listed Wesleyan chapel opened to the public now for the first time in four decades.

And the fact that The Albert Hall is literally a stone's throw from the site of the actual massacre made it all the more poignant. Shelley was so moved to verse when a peaceful protest of men, women, and children for parliamentary reform , was brutally butchered by armed cavalry riders, resulting in the deaths of 15 people, with hundreds more injured. And Peake's dramatic retelling of it, dressed all in white against a backdrop of hundreds of candles lighting the huge organ by the former altar, made it sound still urgent.

To be honest I might have preferred it she did read from a script, if only to stop me focussing on how on earth she was remembering the 30 minutes of fabulous verse. There was one minor blip, which she corrected in a heartbeat without a flinch.  The Manchester International Festival is to be applauded for staging events of this kind, more's the pity that she only gave performances over four days of this event as part of it.

Shelley's call to arms sounded just as relevant today as when he wrote it. We went home with his final call to arms ringing in our ears:

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'

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