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Cotton Panic! review at Upper Campfield Market Hall, Manchester – ‘lacks an overall concept’

Jane Horrocks in Cotton Panic! at Upper Campfield Market Hall, Manchester. Photo: Tristram Kenton

The concept behind Jane Horrocks’ latest gig-theatre project is an excellent one. In 1861, due to the American Civil War, the supply of slave-produced cotton from the United States – woven into fabric by the wage-slaves of Manchester’s cotton mills – dried up and the English working class began being starved to death. Nevertheless, Manchester’s artisans held a meeting in the Free Trade Hall and issued a letter supporting Lincoln’s northern states.

Cotton Panic! attempts to evoke the progress of these events through, well, essentially a concert of newly written (or re-conceived) electronic songs. There are occasional bits of dancing and bits of relevant text spoken by actors on video screens. There are also added theatrics (at one point Horrocks wades into the crowd asking “Will you help me?” over and over again), and some slightly rhyming, spoken-word segments, too. These are delivered in the manner of one of those potty Galactic Empresses that they sometimes have on Doctor Who – sinister-little-girl-voice alternating with plaintive, sing-song howling, complete with a lot of Radiophonic effects.

Apparently the piece does have a director (Wils Wilson), but entirely lacks an overall concept or visual dramaturgy. This feels like a particularly strange problem to have with a gig, where usually even the most random assemblage of songs seems to manage to coalesce into a satisfying whole. Here, where more explanatory elements have been added to aid cohesion and comprehension, it feels like their effect is the complete opposite. Still, the project is a courageous attempt to do something worth doing.

Verdict
Industrial revolution Manchester explored through the medium of industrial music, with mixed results

Production

Production
Cotton Panic!
Venue
Upper Campfield Market Hall
City
Manchester
Starts
July 8, 2017
Ends
July 15, 2017
Press night
July 11, 2017
Creator
Jane Horrocks, Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter, Ben Edwards, Nick Vivian
Book
Nick Vivian
Music
Jane Horrocks, Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter, Ben Edwards
Director
Wils Wilson
Choreographer
Lorena Randi
Design
Chris Turner (visuals)
Set
Joseph Bennett
Lighting
Andreas Fuchs
Costume
Hayley Beckley
Production manager
Simon Byford
Cast includes
Jane Horrocks, Lorena Randi, Glenda Jackson (video), Fiston Barek (video)
Producer
Manchester International Festival, Foyle Foundation
Running time
1hr 10mins