Weeks before work begins redeveloping it into a boutique hotel, the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building, closed since 2012, has its swan song sung by the people of the city.
With City Final, the Belgrade Theatre stages a massive community participation project, guiding the audience on a tour through the building’s stuffy boardrooms, empty newsrooms and damp printing floors, filled with the ghosts of past news stories.
The piece’s set-up – that the paper’s owner, Lord Iliffe, is suddenly taken apart by a supernatural force at the building’s opening ceremony in 1959, leaving the audience to hunt for the constituent parts of his soul and find the spirit of journalism – is admittedly a little corny, but if we buy into the quest structure, there’s real poignancy in the way that individual stories are superimposed onto the architecture of the building which reported them.
Staged by different community theatre groups, some stories feel more urgent than others, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the most hard-hitting focuses on the death in police custody of a young black man.
In Retold, Mercurial Dance turns its attention to the building’s foyer, where the public came to share their personal stories with the paper. The audience’s own memories of the city form the impetus for improvised dances.
The tone is sweetly nostalgic, and the piece, slickly choreographed and easily watchable, feels uncomplicated. In one section where two editors gleefully imagine a celebrity scandal for the front page, twisting and moulding the story in a tangled duet, we glimpse a more nuanced story.