It is hard to describe Manchester Lines without making the play sound like an extended metaphor. This would be unjust as the lyrical script by Jackie Kay and the swaggeringly original presentation by Wils Wilson overcome any pretensions. Besides, this is not so much a play it is more of a celebration.
Shanti (Amelia Donkor) is shocked to find that her mother Jessie (Anne Kidd) who is sliding into dementia had another child, Pauline (Clare Brown) who was adopted. Jessie’s grandchild Louis (Marcquelle Ward) has the chance to progress as a photographer if he can find his lost camera.
Meanwhile Suicidal Anna (Bettrys Jones) is haunted by the death of her twin and Omar (Tachia Newall) defines himself by the only gift he ever received from his feckless father. The lives of the characters intersect in a lost property office run by philosopher Eugene (John Branwell) whose marvellous northern tones set out the positive message of the play – you can only recover things lost if you believe that people will return them.
The set, designed by Amanda Stoodley not only drops the audience in the centre of the action it is an actual delight. The audience is seated on mismatched stools and chairs encircled by shelves crammed with the debris of lives – crutches, prosthetic limbs, even a stuffed fox with a crown.
Kay’s poetic script is very powerful. The only drawback with such an original approach is that the characters are not as fully developed as they might have been in more conventional drama so that you end up appreciating the technique rather than being moved by the story. Only Kidd and Jones have the opportunity to take their characters to a form of conclusion. But the cast all contribute to the party feeling of the show throwing themselves into songs and a very physical dance routine.
The imaginative direction by Wils Wilson creates an anarchic atmosphere in which anything can happen. The cast emerge from the walls of the lost property office, engage with the audience and sing and dance on cue. Prior to entering the theatre the audience is invited to share details of things they have lost and to see comments left by others – apparently a Mr. Cameron has mislaid his daughter.
Mancunian place names are dropped throughout but the real success of the play is that it celebrates the citizens of Manchester rather than the geographic features.
It’s great to see that the current itinerant situation of the Library Theatre has not hindered their imaginative productions and this is one of their best.