DramaNorth WestReview

On Corporation Street – HOME, Manchester

Director: Louise Lowe

Visual Artist: Owen Boss

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

On Saturday 15 June 1996, as Manchester city centre came alive with shoppers, a huge explosion ripped through the city, shattering every window, destroying buildings and causing a boom that was heard for miles. Left in a van on Corporation Street, the bomb was the work of the Provisional IRA, and remains the largest ever detonated in mainland Britain since the Second World War.

Like all seminal moments in life, Mancunians can all remember where they were on that morning, what they heard, who they were missing. The bomb, that injured 212 people, but miraculously killed nobody, marks a pivotal point in the history of the city. In the midst of all the chaos and fear the city and its inhabitants picked themselves up and started making changes.

ANU Productions, last seen at HOME in Angel Meadow, perhaps the highlight of the opening season, have returned as part of a year-long triptych of performances in which they mark the centenary of Ireland’s Easter Rising. Parts one and three explore the 1916 rebellion, while On Corporation Street focuses on how the Troubles impacted across the UK.

Created by the company from individual stories, drawn from personal testimonies, On Corporation Street is an emotional and experiential piece of theatre, a promenade performance that takes the audience behind the scenes at HOME, up and down staircases, into lifts and storerooms, and out into the street. Starting in the main theatre we encounter a slow motion scene as the explosion happens. Against the backdrop of a white van, its hazard warning lights flashing in the semi-darkness, a crowd of people suddenly become individuals as we see them in this moment of shock and confusion. Led out of the main space and off into the depths of the building, we begin to encounter these survivors, as they share their stories, beliefs and fears.

A young man working in the basement stores in Kendal’s department store. A bride ready for her big day An England fan enjoying that afternoon’s Euro 96 match. A nurse whose day has been spent watching the parade of injured arriving at the Royal Infirmary. Each of these beautifully crafted monologues is delivered to small audience groups. We sit in the hospital staff room with the nurse, descend to the basement with the shop worker. We’re invited into the living room of the football fan’s Altrincham home. Some of us join him on the sofa. The monologues are perfectly delivered, powerful, moving and intimate. Each is a fitting tribute to the suffering of those whose words have been used to create them. The performance spaces are beautifully re-created, offering jarring, dream-like moments as we pass from one space to the other.

Unfortunately there’s a severe issue with sound-proofing. Hearing snippets of the performance you’ve just seen while immersed in another shatters the sense of intimacy, catching bits of those you’re still to see creates a bit of a spoiler. There’s also a disruption to the structure created by a physical/dance scene during which we’re invited to sit on a row of seats and listen to recorded testimonies on headphones. Despite the physical intimacy of the performers, who are squeezed into a corridor with the audience, the headphones create a sense of separation that is quite the opposite of the monologues.

Between scenes we’re herded along corridors and through rubble strewn rooms by armed solders who bark orders, offering a sense that someone’s in charge among all the devastation. In the final moments we’re told to leave the building and hurry into the street, where we’re left with nothing but some powerful and memorable images and the feeling that exactly twenty years ago today, the city that surrounds us changed for good.

Runs until 25 June 2016 | Photo:Graeme Cooper


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