Gathering in a car park in the centre of Manchester waiting to be told where ‘the action’ is may have been reminiscent of the rave scene of 1989 but it proved a really slow way to start the production of Manchester Sound: The Massacre. Energetic performers mingled with the anticipating crowd improvising to within an inch of their life trying get a response from the very sober throng, but to little avail…none of us were ‘mad for it’, instead we were cold and hoping for them to get on with it and lead us to the secret location so the production could actually start.
After an unnecessary 10 minute tour of the back streets of the city centre we got our wish as we arrived at a derelict warehouse – a welcome relief despite its uneven floorboards and blacked out windows.
The setting may have been authentic for an underground party but unfortunately the script was not and the less professional and younger members of the cast made it feel a bit like Grange Hill. The stronger professional lead actors made up for the lack of depth and focus in the plot but even that could not stop the production from feeling wooly and disjointed.
It was always going to be a challenge to do 2 key moments in Manchester’s history justice – the tragic Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and the rave culture of the late 80s, early 90s-I had hoped it would have succeeded but to be fair it was just too ambitious a project.
The music was certainly authentic as acid house tunes pumped out of the sound system to shouts of ‘got any pills’ every two minutes. The drug culture was certainly a large element of the acid house era but the feeling of unity, love and freedom between the young people of that day was almost forgotten in Polly Wiseman’s script.
Stronger moments ensued as we were transported back to the days of 1819 and witnessed a backdrop of a simple bar where passionate activists would meet up to discuss their protest. This delivered some touching and thought provoking scenes from Janey Lawson as female rights campaigner Mary Fildes and Pete Ashmore as Samuel Bamford, which led up to the Peterloo Massacre and the subsequent death of numerous innocent men, women and children.
Whether it was the fact the audience actually got to absorb the dialogue with the longer more meaty scenes or the fact we got a breather from following the action up and down 4 floors but this part of the production worked. There was a marked contrast between the calibre of acting in the Peterloo parts of the drama to that of the younger more boisterous Acid House cast. Many characters did cross over between the two eras but on the whole it was like chalk and cheese.
The dignified and poignant Les Mis style chorale finale was both intense and moving but on the whole this production lacked cohesion as the two events were poles apart and the script didn’t make them any closer or relevant.
There’s no doubting this is an ‘experience’ rather than a meaty production, the emphasis being on the promenade nature of the production and the unique setting. There’s an announcement the bar is open at the end of the production and trust me, after the 100 minutes duration (without interval) you definitely need a drink!
Set in a secret warehouse location in Manchester city centre (I promised I wouldn’t reveal where) Manchester Sound: The Massacre raves on till 6th July.