19 June 2012

Theatre trip

A year ago pretty much on the dot, the temporarily homeless Library Theatre became the talk of the town when they put on a site-specific adaptation of Dickens' novel Hard Times in Murrays' Mill in Ancoats (as documented by yours truly here). This June into July, they've developed a production for a space within Manchester City Council's new gaff, Number One First Street.

This latest specially commissioned play, Manchester Lines, is set in a lost property office, and this has been painstakingly recreated with objects borrowed and begged from around the rainy city, immediately immersing you in the weird and wonderful world of missing things. As an aside - but a nicely contextual one - a slightly forgetful friend, who has a tendency to leave most of his belongings in taxis and on trains (twice in one day, on occasion), tells me that the actual Lost & Found for the Manchester transport system does happen to be in that very building, but located on the ground floor.

Anyhow, after being taken up to the fifth floor in groups then filling out a form detailing what you have lost (my mind, in my case) and wandering through a corridor filled with interesting found objects, you appear in the theatre space. Unlike Hard Times, you get to sit down for most of this performance - which was a relief for me (hangover the size of Salford, since you're asking) and all the people posting messages on the website fretting about having to stand up for two hours.


The "keeper of lost things" Eugene (played warmly by John Branwell) paints a picture of the comings and goings of various characters who have mislaid items on the Manchester tram system, then gradually these people are introduced to the stage (via slightly unusual means, but I don't wish to spoil things for you) to tell their own tales of woe or whatever. Everybody is losing or finding something, and not just physical objects like umbrellas and handbags: "I can lose a bag if that's what it takes to find a sister", says Shanti (Amelia Donkor) to Pauline (both pictured). There are lost memories, found family members, lost marbles, found identities, lost brothers, found sisters... All the characters are interlinked, either obviously or via the fact that some are in the same tram carriage at the same decisive moment. The segueing into and out of the different stories, especially with an aural backdrop of station noises, really reminded me of last year's MIF sound installation, Audio Obsura by Lavinia Greenlaw (which I describe here), and while it took me a little while to work our how everything fits together in Manchester Lines, it all made good sense in the end.

The acting was great and I especially felt connected with Pauline (Claire Brown) and her son Louis (an exceptional performance from the young actor Marcquelle Ward). However, it felt as if rather too much was going on - aside from all the threads you spend a while trying to connect, there are singing and dancing numbers, and a grand finale involving the audience moving to another room. I'm afraid I wasn't keen on the songs (and I was pleased to learn that they weren't down to Manchester-based poet Jackie Kay, who wrote the rest of the script), and being so close to the actors made me slightly uncomfortable during the choreographed pieces. Still, it's dubbed as "a theatrical journey", and it definitely is an experience, so all aboard!

Manchester Lines continues until 7 July. See the Library Theatre website for full details.


ADDENDUM: My theatre critic pal Laura informs me that actually the song lyrics were written by Jackie Kay, which is a bit of a shame if you hear the Altrincham / ham one. Ho hum.

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