Aptly timed and warmly received ‘These Days – ‘The Manchester Peace Song Cycle’ is tender look back at the history of Heaton Park. The story is told through the eyes of the two metal lions (Amelia & Arthur) who first appeared 1799 and ‘stand’ guard at the park’s south entrance.
This work premiered in 2018 and has been described as ‘an example of what music and theatre can do to celebrate and learn from the best of our past’.
The program guide describes this piece as ‘…a modern classical fusion of music, poetry and drama’. In this respect this performance delivers. Set in Heaton Park and spanning a single day from sunrise to sunset we’re invited to take a closer look at history of the park. A history that initially seems familiar: kite flying, family picnics and leisurely walks. The other history, however, is one where the park plays host to: suffragette rallies and alleged attacks; a World War I Army Recruitment Camp; and a RAF base in 1939. As well as this the park was centre stage with visits from William Grimshaw (performing his Gramophone concert); Pope John Paul II and later when Oasis held sell out concerts at the venue.
While waiting to enter Manchester Cathedral, a building whose majestic ornateness I’ve always admired, we were treated to the sounds of voices singing – this immediately set the tone for the evening by transporting us back in time. Once the evening commenced an approximately 20 strong child choir sings with a musical accompaniment. My one criticism here is that (rather ironically) I wish the acoustics could have been better. At odd intervals it was slightly difficult to clearly interpret what was being said or sung. Nevertheless, above the stage carefully curated images of the park’s past were projected. Grainy sepia photographs charting the park’s progress through the years.
By far the most poignant sections of the evening were when the actors gave earnest interpretations to historical events. The first of these was the retelling of the Manchester Pals Army Camp. War is declared and young men with their lives ahead of them were called upon to be patriotic and enlist.
I, like many others, studied this in school many years ago and I’d even heard of the Manchester Pals – what I didn’t know was that their army camp was at Heaton Park. Many of these recruits never returned and a proportion of those who died left loved ones at home. This was tenderly articulated on stage when we were presented with war widows sharing their stories through song. Women had responded to the call to step into the roles left behind by the absent men fighting abroad. Parallel to this the very same women reacted to the persistent failure of a bill in Parliament that would have allowed women to vote. Heaton Park again had a role to play here when Suffragettes held some of their rallies here. Perhaps, more controversially, Suffragettes where suspected of being behind arson attacks on the both the Heaton Park bowls house and the nearby station.
★ ★ ★ ★
Throughout the evening the stories are told eloquently through song, projected images, dance and a touching libretto by Manchester poet, Tony Walsh. Together this combination, as seen through the eyes of the faithful Amelia and Arthur, invites us to consider what they (Amelia and Arthur) would think of how far we’ve progressed since they arrived. Are we a more compassionate society? Has the sacrifice suffered over two World Wars taught us anything? The night ends positively with a rallying call to us all visiting the park to have open minds and hearts; and to fly kites not drones. Overall, this was a poignant and educational way to end Remembrance Sunday.
Feelgood Theatre presented These Days – The Manchester Peace Song Cycle at Manchester Cathedral on 10 November 2019.