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Scuttlers by Royal Exchange - Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Im a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
Event: -
Trouble and mill
Manchester, 1885, and industrialisation goes hand in hand with overcrowded living conditions. For the youth of the city, the monotony of mill-work is offset by the thrills of gang warfare.

Scuttlers, a world premiere by Rona Munro, takes a wealth of historical material (mainly The Gangs of Manchester by Dr Andrew Davies) and presents us with well-choreographed crowd scenes whilst also zooming in on individual stories.

David Judge gives a beguiling performance as Thomas Clayton. He is all boyish charm and wide-eyed boasts, to any girls that will listen, that he's destined to be 'king of the street'. Caitriona Ennis, who was outstanding in ANU productions 2014 Angel Meadow (which covered similar subject matter) has terrific stage presence. She plays Margaret, a young woman who at first seems too sensitive to survive in this unforgiving world.

Caitriona Ennis as Margaret (left) and Rona Morison as Theresa. Photo by Jonathan Keenan

The restless pace of the drama, directed by Wils Wilson, is brilliantly underpinned by Sound Designer Peter Rice and Composer and Musician Denis Jones, who plays live. They create a soundtrack which combines the hammer and drone of mill machinery with techno beats. In one crowd scene clear allusions are drawn to the Hacienda, although the point is not too laboured to take us out of the Victorian world of the play and into twentieth century rave culture.

The fight scenes are most compelling when they move the human stories forwards. This is particularly true of those between supposed allies Jimmy (Dan Parr) and Sean (Bryan Parry).

Bryan Parry as Sean (rear) and Dan Parr as Jimmy. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

The slightly episodic structure of the play can, at times, make it hard to fully engage with all the characters. However, despite all the sound and fury, it is those rare quiet moments, when the young protagonists start to find their own voice and give insights into their inner lives that are the most compelling. In an environment of violence, toil and sickness, the drama suggests, perhaps the most dangerous thing is to care too much about your own life and that of those closest to you.

Photo by Jonathan Keenan

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Why? Fast paced historical drama
Phone: 0161 833 9833
Where: Royal Exchange, Manchester
Cost: From 15 (concessions available)
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