Produced by Take Back Theatre
Directed by Martha Simon and Matt Hassall
As explained here I don’t review script-in-hand presentations unless I’ve been asked to but there were two performances last night of something remarkable and instead of a review I’ll try to give a flavour of the event. Because you really have missed it.
This all takes place up at Hope Mill Theatre, roughly the point where New Islington gives in and admits it’s really Beswick with a facial. The something is remarkable both in its high quality and the speed with which it has all come together: many of the cast first saw their scripts on Sunday night or Monday morning.
But these rapid responses are what Take Back do best and this one is responding to the election ‘result’ that came through on Friday morning. The chaos, triumph and incredulous despair of that still-evolving outcome (sorry, DUP but I’m embracing evolution as A Thing) are all captured in comedy, drama, poetry and song.
The song in question, Rupert Hill‘s Turned Out Nice Again is a warm and defiant acoustic guitar ballad sung in beautiful harmony by Hill and Liz Carney. Thematically it ties in very well with Tony Walsh‘s wildly successful new poem Net Worked, which Longfella delivers himself to get the evening going.
Sometimes We Win (d.Martha Simon) is Sue McCormick‘s rapid-fire, mischievous history lesson in the global struggles for electoral freedom and representation, delivered as a sizzling tongue-twister by McCormick herself with Sandra Cole and Greg Kelly.
Lindsay Williams’ Toppled is an audacious sketch directed by Matt Hassall in which a textbook Theresa’s campaign bus has, implausibly, been overturned by high winds… The only help at hand? A prospective Labour MP and a lone police officer, the sole police presence on the highway because of recent cuts. Perfectly performed by Josie Cerise, Leon Tagoe and Kerry Willison-Parry it’s a delirious chunk of comedy that manages to include every possible double-entendre relating to politics and traffic.
Sandra Cole returns with I’m in Love with a Conservative, her tragi-comic poem about life as the only living leftie in Rossendale, directed by Martha Simon. As a reminder that right-wingers are people too it’s almost convincing, very wittily observed and delivered with claw-sharp irony by Cole.
Simon also directs A Dummy’s Guide To… by Aileen Quinn. This demolishes the absurd ignorance increasingly directed towards Muslims and Islam by applying the same logic and vocabulary to Christians and Christianity. As performed by Shila Iqbal, Zoe Iqbal and Rob Ward, the frustration behind this work isn’t diminished by its cleverness and cheek; it’s a brilliant, sharp spotlight on hypocrisy and bigotry.
The next four pieces are all directed by Matt Hassall. Lisa Holdsworth’s Shhh! finds Elle Pemberton sitting in serene silence, a silence repeatedly interrupted by the apoplectic blustering of Toby Hadoke. He’s every Mail reader ever, working himself up into froth after froth of manufactured outrage about a familiar series of cliches. It’s extremely funny. Eventually she gets him to realise that nobody wants to hear that stuff any more. Not now. He shuts up. They listen to a new kind of silence; one in which people are thinking.
Hadoke’s back in No Double Chips For You written by Cathy Crabb. He’s joined by Hayley Cartwright, Zoe Iqbal, Rupert Hill and Rob Ward for a light-hearted parable set in a works canteen. It’s the story of people who’ll never see eye to eye about how they cast their vote uniting in a common cause, just to make someone’s life better. An impressive example of a writer’s economy and a cast’s skill: the characters all come to life at once and deserve to be seen again in an expanded piece.
Rebekah Harrison’s A Little Story about Hope (performed by Nadia Emam, Gemma Hepworth and Rupert Hill) is like a stirring hymn to all of the things that Jeremy Corbyn and his campaigns have inspired in people of all ages and situations. It’s about looking beyond austerity and divisions, even political divisions, and daring to work towards something better.
Hayley Cartwright, Josie Cerise, Nadia Emam and Shila Iqbal line up on the stage for Rosa Hesmondhalgh’s wicked cabaret-style The Naughtiest Thing I Ever Did. This is an annihilation of Theresa May performed with a studied sweetness that makes it all the more savage and hilarious. And it’s so sharply, brilliantly written. I want someone to set it to music.
Martha Simon returns to direct the finale, a love poem to Manchester and political awakening called Blind Faith, written and performed by Zoe Iqbal. Her half-giggling delivery is almost shy, in perfect contrast to the persuasive fervour of the story of our youngest voters finally feeling inspired and empowered. It’s an inspiration in itself and the perfect way to end an uplifting night of fine talents shining a light on the present moment.