If I invited you to an evening out to watch 14 plays, what would you think? Marathon? Shut eye? Breakneck speed? Well, this production of ‘The Manchester Project at Christmas’, by the Manchester-based ‘Monkeywood’ theatre company, is exactly that. 14 shorts. However, at no stage do these offerings seem rushed or contrived.
The plays are performed in Manchester Home’s gallery space. The set design has the look and feel of a 1940’s Berlin cabaret bar. The audience sit at tables, drinks poised closely – all that’s missing is the obligatory cigarette smoke. Lights are dimmed. On stage boxes labelled with Manchester regions: Moss Side, Chorlton, Hulme etc. these both contain props and are used as props.
The six actors three males and three females are flanked by a projection screen that displays the name of each Manchester region as the plays progress.
The plays cover subjects as diverse as loss, poverty, maternity, imprisonment, and immigration. The pace of the first play ‘Home’ by Ian Kershaw is a poignant and gentle ‘feel good’ romp told through the eyes of Mr Valentine, a ‘Big Issue’ seller who compares and contrasts his experiences selling the Big Issue outside ‘The Corner House’ and ‘Home’ its new venue.
Subsequent plays add a diverse flavour to the evening for example: Little Hulton is cleverly delivered through rap acappella – it took a while to adjust to this as it was unexpected, it was a welcome surprise and the end result was well received.
Humour is always difficult to portray when writing play,s as the written word becomes crystallised once committed. Also, the word – if the play’s successful, will be interpreted by many actors. In this instance the two stand out offerings were delivered by the female leads. The first was Cynthia Emeagi in Chanje Kunda’s ‘Crumpsall’ which gives a modern take on the original Christmas story.
The second was Zoe Iqbal in Punam Ramchurn’s ‘Cheetham Hill’ where she adroitly plays a Scouser who plays an immigrant with a ‘Dell Boy’ propensity for charm and wit. Her market stall sales skills were second to none. Both plays had the audience in stitches from start to finish as the pacing and line delivery were exceptional.
★ ★ ★ ★
The defining thread throughout all these shorts is Christmas and more specifically Christmas in Manchester. They are a celebration of its roots and its diversity writ large and provide an aspect of familiarity for all who are lucky enough to see this collection.