Writers: Ian Kershaw, Reuben Johnson, Chris Hoyle, Eve Steele, Chanje Kunda, Cathy Crabb, Louise Wallwein, Keisha Thompson, Chris Thorpe, Punam Ramchurn, Curtis Cole, Furquan Akhtar, Sarah McDonald – Hughes, Andy Sheridan
Director: Martin Gibbons
Reviewer: Matthew Forrest
Some two years back, Monkeywood Theatre Company provided a platform for writers from the Greater Manchester area, and thus the Manchester Project was born. The Manchester Project returns with a festive-themed showcase, with 14 new plays set in and around the Greater Manchester area. In some cases, the setting is integral to the story, in others, it is irrelevant, however, they all offer a Yule time celebration of humanity and some of the wonderful characters from the great city of Manchester that 2.8million of us call home.
Six actors, Cynthia Emagi, Zoe Iqbal, Reuben Johnson, Andrew Sheridan, Samantha Siddall, and Gurjeet Singh perform all 14 plays. All the plays are performed within 70 minutes, so they come thick and fast. There are monologues, two-handers, and a few that involve the entire cast. The majority are quite lighted hearted, some offer social and political commentary, but all highlight the very best in humanity
First up is the beautiful Home, by Ian Kershaw: it sets the tone for the production perfectly. It’s the tale of a Big Issue seller, who has moved on for his patch outside the Corner House, to Home. It’s a story of kindness, hope and human spirit. We hop, skip and jump our way around Manchester, including a visit to Manchester prison, Strangeways, where a mother and son clash over his plans when he is released: it’s poignant and heartbreaking as we witness a conflict between two people who mean the world to one another. Then there is is the second coming of the lord and saviour in Crumpsall, a look at the strength, fearlessness and hope of today’s young people.
We finish our journey in Timperley, as divorced couple Eileen and Albion, continue their ongoing war with each, but woe-be-tide anyone who has ago at the other, because they both still have each other’s back. These are just four examples of the variety, diversity but most importantly the heart on display within all 14 narratives. There is a danger with a production of this nature, that it can be ‘preachy’, or cover the same ground, but each story feels fresh, with none of the stories outstaying their welcome. The running order for each show is essential to the show’s success and director Mark Gibbons has it spot on.
This isn’t just a showcase, for the writers, but for the actors as well, with each getting there moment in the spotlight. Reuben Johnson is on fine form with his self –penned, drama Little Hulton, which is performed as a cappella rap piece. Zoe Iqbal is comedy gold as the pushy, fast-talking market trader in Cheetham Hill. Cynthia Emeagi gives a haunting, tragic performance in the Windrush infused Whalley Range.
Samantha Siddall and Andrew Sheridan are paired together in Chorlton and Timperley , with the former a story of loss and grief, with both giving measured, subtle turns, whilst the latter giving them scope to flex their comedy muscles. Last but no means least is Gurjeet Singh who beautifully captures the disappointment and joy of a Muslim boy at Christmas, in the sweet-natured Old Trafford.
Ultimately this is a fun, feel-good, production, with a strong social conscience, which despite its messages of kindness, tolerance, and understanding is never saccharine or sanctimonious, just 14 stories celebrating all friendship, family and love, which will more than warm your cockles on a typically cold, wet, wintery Manchester evening.
In addition to the Manchester Project, there is also an hour of comedy, from either some local stand-up’s or performance from Manchester drag queen Mrs Blair, who celebrates some of British television’s best-loved icons, the listings for which will be found on Home’s website.
Runs until 21 December 2019 | Image: Jason Lock