Manchester Theatre Awards

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The Manchester Project (PUSH Festival 2018)

Monkeywood Theatre in association with HOME , Manchester
HOME , Manchester
13 January 2018 to 27 January 2018


The Manchester Project feels like labour of love – a warm tribute to the city and those who live and work there and in the surrounding area. Monkeywood Theatre has commissioned nineteen local authors to write about Manchester and its people with the intention that the ‘tiny but titanic’ plays will be performed individually as curtain-raisers before other shows in the PUSH Festival or grouped together into a single programme. Immense care has been taken with the production ; going so far as to use photographs of the authors in their chosen location projected onto screens to bookend the individual plays.

 I spend so much time in Manchester that every so often it is necessary to remind myself that I am not actually a Mancunian. It is possible that Monkeywood Theatre has experienced this this same realisation – some of the areas covered by The Manchester Project are not in Manchester.  Six of the nineteen authors perform double duty and enact the plays often perched on, or jumping between, a series of raised platforms that are dotted around the stage with place names attached.

Director Martin Gibbons does not allow the number of plays or their brevity to determine the nature or limit the scope of the production. This lively and varied show is completely engaging if shamelessly parochial. Gibbons avoids the lazy option of limiting the plays to simple monologues- they comprise conversations, full-cast pieces and monologues in a variety of styles – rap, blank verse and even a Shakespearian pastiche.

The authenticity of the plays secures a strong audience connection – everyone can relate to characters complaining about Metrolink or the obsession with attracting tourists to the city. The audience roar their approval at hearing their neighbourhoods described as hotbeds of casual racism or being inhabited by local ‘characters’ who use Scrabble tiles as substitutes for false teeth.

The piercing perception in the scripts avoids any cloying sense of nostalgia. The detrimental impact of closing facilities such as youth clubs is not limited to youngsters but also denies adults the chance to make a positive contribution to their community.  A respectful, restrained approach ensures that traumatic events, like the atrocity at the Manchester Arena, are referenced but not exploited.

Monkeywood Theatre does not quite achieve the theatrical coup they managed with Multi-Storey where a series of short plays were linked together to form a cohesive narrative. However, there is the sense that all of the plays are leading to the city centre of Manchester. The authors are ambivalent about the suburbs and regard them as places inhabited by small-minded judgmental people, intolerant of anyone with a non-conventional lifestyle, from which one must escape either psychologically or physically by re-locating to the city centre.

It is an idealised attitude and anyone weary of the hellish daily commute, dodging roadworks and chuggers or fed up with public spaces being co-opted for commercial gain might find the rosy viewpoint a bit hard to take. However, even the most cynical of observers will find it hard to resist Eve Steele’s ecstatic tribute to the city centre that brings The Manchester Project to a rousing conclusion. 

Individual plays from The Manchester Project will be performed throughout the PUSH Festival  and the full programme plays again on 27th January 2018

Reviewer: David Cunningham