Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Once in a House on Fire

Sarah McDonald Hughes, based on Andrea Ashworth's memoir
Monkeywood Theatre, developed with The Lowry
Quays Theatre, Lowry
01 June 2012 to 02 June 2012

While legislators talk the talk about social mobility, Andrea Ashworth was walking the walk . . . all the way out of Rusholme, Manchester, to Oxford University.

It was a route that took her from a chaotic upbringing, via a couple of abusive stepfathers, towards a career as a writer and academic, lauded for the award-winning memoir of her troubled early years, and from which this stage production is a lusty adaptation.

Not the first author then to write about what she knows, or to use the memory of her own life as both catharsis and to signal her importance as a writer. Nor was Andrea Ashworth the first person, or the last, to ease the strain of everyday life – with for her its casual abuse or violence – by sinking herself into a love of literature.

Studying destructive relationships in Wuthering Heights, while living through them in inner-city Manchester, was one of the more poignant ironies of her life.

Until her story is inevitably made into a movie, Manchester’s own Monkeywood Theatre company have got in first with a small-scale performance that nevertheless manages to capture the grimness, humour and – ultimately – life-affirming resilience of the human spirit at the heart of her story.

The production has grown out of an even smaller studio performance, incubated by this venue last year, before venturing out on a mini tour of slightly larger venues in 2012. Along the way it continues to attract a growing number of enthusiastic theatregoers.

This tour evidently enjoys little more by way of staging than it did in its original studio showing. It is nevertheless a strong example of how less is more, and uses an evocative string of 70s and 80s hits to create a timeline through its story.

In a small company, where the cast can also be everything from artistic directors to scene shifters, there are several stand-out performances but as writer of the adaptation, and performer of the central role, Sarah McDonald Hughes earns double honours as a highly-credible youngster. Trebling up as her mother, sister, and best friend, Emily Fleeshman is equally authentic while Matthew Ganley adds to his already-lauded credentials.

A shining success on a shoestring that deserves even wider appreciation.

  • Read Kevin Bourke's exclusive interview with Andrea Ashworth in 'Articles'

Reviewer: David Upton


Comment by Alan Hulme

Yes, highly recommended. David doesn't mention it but the author/writer and the production were quite rightly featured in MTA's nominations list for last year's awards.