Last year the temporarily homeless Library Theatre Company brought its season of site-specific productions to a climax with Manchester Sound: The Massacre, an impressively immersive piece that put audiences at the heart of both Manchester’s 1819 Peterloo Massacre and the city’s late 1980s rave scene. But while the drama was bookended by interactions from the cast, the bulk of the action unfolding in and around the audience mostly ran along conventional lines. By comparison, this collaboration with the Dublin-based ANU Productions, another site-specific production which serves as a curtain-raiser for the opening of the Library Theatre’s new incarnation as HOME, takes the theatre of immersion to ambitiously high – and often uncomfortably intimate – new levels.
Groups of eight gather in a square in the formerly industrial Ancoats, an area of Manchester populated by Irish immigrants since the 19th century whose descendants continued to live in shocking poverty until gentrification recently forced them out. A cheery estate agent Niamh McCann ushers the group into an apartment block, before her sales spiel is interrupted by a blood-splattered young woman Caitriona Ennis, the emotional glue that holds an impressively committed cast together, who has witnessed a man being beaten to death in the street. And so begins a subterranean dash through the lives of the residents of the Angel Meadow estate, as the final generation of Irish families clash with Italian agitators, fight among themselves and spread rumours of a man wearing a pig mask who is attacking the womenfolk.
As the group is split up and individuals are picked off by the cast for one-to-one encounters, snatches of other scenes unfolding simultaneously are overheard. It feels haphazard but is clearly co-ordinated and choreographed with immaculate precision by director Louise Lowe, while utterly convincing locales designed by installation artist Owen Boss provide the backdrop. The audience is far more complicit in the action than in other site-specific shows, being called upon to comfort, play pool or spar with characters or get embroiled in family rows. As such, this is not a show for shy, retiring theatregoers, as there is literally no place to hide. And as the scenarios grow more nightmarish, the proximity to the other audience members means you are all too aware of how amused, bemused or bewildered they are by what they are witnessing.
Narratively, it is a puzzle as to how it all fits together and you are left wondering whether repeated viewings would help fill in the narrative blanks. Those seeking a more conventional story arc, then, might find it dramatically unsatisfying. However, as shared theatrical experiences go, Angel Meadow offers a genuinely unique view of Manchester’s dark underbelly, and while that journey is often discomforting and unsettling, the one thing it isn’t is boring.
- Cutting Room Square, Manchester
- June 10-29
- Director: Louise Lowe
- Design: Owen Boss production Niamh Lunny costume, Ciaran Bagnall lighting, Carl Kennedy sound
- Technical: Pete Jordan production manager ANU, Jim Gee production manager HOME, Richard Owen production lighting, Paul Gregory sound supervisor, Gerry Marsden production sound
- Cast includes: Niamh McCann, Dee Burke, Lloyd Cooney, Caitriona Ennis, Will Irvine, Una Kavanagh
- Producers: Lynette Moran ANU, David Fry HOME
- Running time 1hr
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