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A site-specific piece in a former Bradford mill that looks back at the working life there over the past 60 or so years is always likely to come off well. The buildings themselves are supremely evocative, their vastness hugely impressive and inviting all kinds of light and sound installations, while the nostalgia for a time so recent, but so distant, is very potent.
So, when Freedom Studios add in an ingenious and beautifully integrated approach that gives a context to the typical stories we overhear, the result is an outstanding piece of theatre. The detail is perfectly handled. Outside the entrance a colourful poster proclaims luxury apartments available at The Mill – City of Dreams. Inside a film about the regeneration of Bradford runs on a loop and a model shows the future glory of Drummond’s Mill while we enjoy our wine and nibbles. After a while an unpleasantly bumptious man is seen to be gladhanding the guests and bullying his underlings – this proves to be Anton Dahlin (played, very amusingly, by
Emil Lager) from Create International who then proceeds to hector the audience until a power failure leaves him with only his staff to scream at. Only then does a caretaker figure with a flash-light lead us on a tour of Drummond’s Mill’s past.
This is Frank, an engaging host as played by
Geoff Leesley and a main part of the story, 40 years in the mill, formerly overlooker in the burling and mending shed, with a sadly touching romance with Italian worker Maria (the delightful Raffaella Gordon).
The City of Dreams in question is the meretricious new development, but also the mill that received immigrants from all over the world with their dreams, both fulfilled and disappointed, of a better life. The focus is particularly on three workers, from Italy, Ukraine and Pakistan, initially welcomed to the mill by the soulless invisible voice of authority – the view of the community life of the mill is generally positive, but never sentimentally cosy.
Madani Younis and Omar Elerian’s production makes inventive and flexible use of choreography, tableaux and displays besides conventionally acted scenes by a committed and capable cast. The light and sound installation by Stuart Bannister explores the distant prospects and hidden corners of the mill and the script by the directors and Jonathan Holmes is economical and effective, with well controlled changes of tone. <i>The Mill – City of Dreams</i> proves a haunting, humane and memorable evening which manages to keep the focus on people despite the attempts of the building to assume the starring role! - by Ron Simpson