I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Angel Meadow takes you on a journey that is both frightening and beautiful in its intensity. The world premiere, by Dublin-based ANU Productions, employs audience interaction and takes place in one of Manchester's disused pubs. If David Lynch and James Joyce had ever collaborated, this is the kind of work they might have produced.
I start the evening as one of eight audience members, met by an estate agent (Niamh McCann), on the conceit that we are prospective buyers. Our viewing of a show-apartment is gatecrashed by a bloodstained young woman (Caitriona Ennis) who has just witnessed a gangland killing. "Why would you want to live here?" she asks. "It's hell on earth." And we soon find out what she means.
From then on the actors escort us, either individually or as part of the group, around the pub. Each audience member's experience is different so it's not possible to give one definitive account. However, my evening includes being confronted by a football hooligan in the cellar (an allusion to the pub's history). Later, I am led upstairs by a distressed young woman (Dee Burke) who asks me to sit on her unmade bed while she tells me about her encounter with the devil.
This fable is echoed in one of the weirdest but most hypnotic scenes of the production, where a bare-chested man in a pig's mask seduces a girl into drinking bleach. This danse macabre is the only section where the actors do not speak to the audience, or each other.
Perhaps the most poignant scene involves us joining in a threadbare Christmas gathering, which is as menacing as the broken bottles at our feet.
The play focuses on nineteenth century Irish immigration to the Ancoats area of Manchester. It is set in the modern world but makes use of the company's research. Director Louise Lowe says: "We know from archives and oral histories that life here was overcrowded and dangerous. Gangs of scuttlers roamed large, and territorial combat was a way of life."
Angel Meadow today refers to a park – one of Manchester's 'green lungs'. Friedrich Engels, co-author with Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto, would have recognised Angel Meadow as a wider enclave.
In his 1844 classic: The Condition of the Working Class, he wrote: "If anyone wishes to see in how little space a human being, how little air – and such air – he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither."
All of the ANU actors, supported by a community company, are scarily convincing in their roles. Bairbre Ni hAodha impressively combines the challenging task of Production Coordinator with the role of a barmaid. Laura Murray flips between vulnerability and rage as a young widow. However, on the night I attended, the standout performance was by Caitriona Ennis who combined innocent humour with maniacal energy.
The fractured nature of Angel Meadow means you don't have the satisfaction of living through a narrative arc as you might in a traditional play. But its power lies in the way it makes you feel you've suddenly arrived in the middle of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It blurs the lines between theatre and real relationships and jolts you into an altered view of both.
Angel Meadow is presented by HOME and is the first in a series of site-specific productions in the lead-up to the opening of the £25m centre for theatre, film and art in spring 2015.