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Manchester Sound: The Massacre - Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Iím a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
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A play where you walk between two centuries
I've never attended a play before which involves assembling in a car park and then being shepherded by two actors to a secret location.

Manchester Sound: The Massacre is the third and final site-specific production by the city's Library Theatre Company. Written by Polly Wiseman, it interweaves two key movements in Manchester's history: the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and the heady-days of acid house in 1989.

Stephen Fewell DJ Liberty
Stephen Fewell as DJ Liberty. Photograph by Kevin Cummins.

The Peterloo Massacre is the name given to a peaceful gathering of 60,000 people, in St Peter's Fields, demanding the right to vote. Eighteen died and many more were injured when troops charged through the crowd. It inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley to write The Masque of Anarchy. A recitation of the great poem forms part of the play's kaleidoscopic sound track.

Rachel Austin Leah Hackett Kevin Cummins
Rachel Austin and Leah Hackett. Photograph by Kevin Cummins.

In 1989 two teenagers Evie (Leah Hackett) and Allegra (Rachel Austin) experience the highs and lows at the final gathering of an underground club night called The Massacre. Meanwhile, Peterloo protestors, including husband and wife Jemima and Samuel Bamford (Pete Ashmore), plan their peaceful march.

The drama unfolds in the kind of vacant building that city centre dwellers pass every day without noticing. We literally follow - and often bump into - the actors as they move across and between floors.

The cast, including a 25-strong community company, switch between the two centuries. Polly Wiseman and director Paul Jepson work wonders in allowing the key actors to slip away for costume changes without slowing down the pace of the action. Part of the enjoyment of the evening is working out who the actor in formal dress was just portraying in the multi coloured garb of the rave.

In a section which is both surreal and poignant, the ghosts of the Peterloo women encounter their twentieth century counterparts, who are suffering the downside of the pills they've taken. "A woman can be Prime Minister now, that's wonderful," says Mary Fildes (Janey Lawson). "She's a total bitch," snaps back Evie. Whatever the century, Polly Wiseman seems to be saying, the power balance between men and women will be a central issue.

Janey Lawson Kevin Cummins
Rachel Austin and Janey Lawson. Photograph by Kevin Cummins.

Manchester Sound: The Massacre
uses extensive research by Robert Poole and Sarah Haughey. It sometimes has the feel of a dramatised documentary and the fluid nature of the production inevitably makes it hard to build emotional investment in all the characters. But it's a glowing example of how to create drama with an acid house pulse that makes you feel you're in the midst of history.
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Why? Watch a new play in a vacant building
Phone: 0161 200 1500
Where: Secret Location
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