ANU productions and HOME
15 June 2016 to 25 June 2016
Even before HOME opened its doors, they had brought the innovative Irish company ANU Productions to the city for the brilliantly down and dirty site-specific piece Angel Meadow in an old pub in Ancoats. Now they’re back, exploring Manchester’s more recent past, and indeed the HOME building itself, with a challenging and immersive piece inspired by the IRA bomb, the largest bomb to be detonated in Great Britain since World War II, which exploded near to the Arndale Centre exactly twenty years ago. Miraculously, no-one was killed but many hundreds were seriously injured and businesses, dwellings and livelihoods all across Central Manchester were disrupted or destroyed, while its civic, cultural and financial shock waves are still being felt.
For ANU it’s part of a year-long triptych looking at “Irish renegades and acts of rebellion that have shifted cultural thinking at home and abroad.” Obviously, it has enormous resonance in this city and seems a splendid example of how HOME are working hard to be involved in work that is relevant to their home city whilst consciously operating in a much wider context.
“We’ve tried to be as truthful as we can in the research and the development, and then to re-imagine that as art. For every hour of work that we show to an audience, there’s seven hours that doesn’t get in,” ANU’s Louise Lowe has explained of a process that involved taking almost 200 testimonies from people who were there on the day or subsequently involved.
Initially, the audience at HOME are taken into the main theatre but this is certainly not a traditional piece. “I haven’t made anything for a stage in 20 years,” Lowe laughs. So it’s not long before a fire alarm sounds and the audience are whisked in small groups through a kaleidoscopic, sometimes harrowing, occasionally unexpectedly funny representation of what happened that day and afterwards. Much as with Angel Meadow, what audiences actually see and experience can vary quite significantly. My group, for instance, initially saw a short film about the Bomb, before a belligerent Irishman arrived to whisk us off to a storeroom where a worker who had happened to be below ground at the time movingly described what happened and how he felt when he emerged in the midst of the chaos, extraordinarily finding himself at one point held at gun point by a soldier in a tank!
Elsewhere in the various nooks and crannies backstage at HOME we met a tearful, unnecessarily apologetic Irish nurse, and were conducted from there into an area crammed with mannequins (212, in fact, a reference to the numbers injured and the way shop mannequins were mistaken for bodies in the confused aftermath) as an actress writhed, wrapping herself in white lace. In a room full of hanging keys, we waited with one of the many hundreds who were displaced by the Bomb and compelled to wait for days, weeks or even years to get back the keys to their property, shut down in a quasi-military operation.
Other audience members might well have had a quite different experiences, it emerged when, 75 minutes later, we were all chased onto the street by soldiers. “For the audience, it has to feel wild enough and bold enough that anything can happen, whilst being orchestrated to within an inch of its life,” laughs Lowe, and I heard one audience member wondering aloud why “all theatre can’t be this immersive and thrilling.” A slightly extreme point of view, perhaps, but I know what they mean.
Reviewer: Kevin Bourke