How would you describe your work to people who are familiar with the theatre, but are not aware of your approach?
I think that the fundamental difference is that we place the audience at the centre of the experience. They’re not detached from the action in any way, there’s no fourth wall, there’s no comfy seats, there’s no chocolates! The audience is fully immersed in a world that’s made around them; and they’re given what I call ‘agency’ in that they can change the course of what happens.
It is well known to locals that Manchester has a strong connection with emigration from Ireland, but was it known to you and the company?
If you asked people at home they would probably say Liverpool before Manchester in that regard, so although the connection between Ireland and Manchester wasn’t a complete surprise to me, what I didn’t know was the extent of the migration, or the fact that so many people were living in such a small place. When we first came to Ancoats it was like being on a film set because it was so silent, but the architecture and the streets surrounding us was contradicting that feeling in a massive way, because I knew it was once such a highly populated industrial area.
How much of a voyage of discovery has this experience been for you all?
We worked with Claire Turner from the Manchester Histories Festival and she gave us the context of the area. The more we looked at it the more excited we got as we discovered the Irish connections. We knew quickly that Ancoats was the right place to go. We spent four or five hours on the first evening shouting things to each other like ‘look what I’ve found!’ We’re not making a documentary, but the research underpins all of the work we make.
You have come to Ancoats as an ‘outsider’ – would it have been a different show were Ancoats in Dublin rather than Manchester?
Yes and no. I think being from outside gives you permission to ask the silly or ignorant questions that you wouldn’t dare ask if you were working in an area you know. When we’re working in Dublin there’s the responsibility of things like ‘what will my cousin Sandra who lives here think of this?’ Being ‘outsiders’ gives us permission to ask questions that perhaps you wouldn’t ask in your native city, and ultimately, the performance that you make, and what the audience will see, is the result of that process.
Angel Meadow runs in Ancoats from 10 – 22 June. For further information, please click here.