I love Manchester. Every time I visit I get more emo than the time before. Every time I visit it feels less like home than it did before. Every time I remember my time in Manchester it feels more like nostaligia than the time before. I went to Manchester to see some theatre yesterday and I didn’t call my old friends afterwards because my leg was a bit sore from all the walking around I’d done and I wanted to make the 21.04 train back to Sandbach for a decent night’s kip. I am not the person I was when I lived there.
And yet I am not completely a visitor there. I am not a tourist. I view the city through the eyes of someone for whom it is still the nearest thing to ‘home’. I lived most of my life in Macclesfield but that stopped being ‘home’ about a week after I moved to Manchester. Leicester was never ‘home’. Sandbach, the place my parents live now and where I am staying this summer, is not ‘home’. So I felt all sorts of heavy emotional shit when I saw Manchester Lines yesterday. While the Library Theatre gets a new building, they’re doing stuff in various places around the city and this was set in a new-ish office building near Whitworth Street and Deansgate Locks. It was 90 minutes of an extremely well written play set in the Metrolink’s lost property office. I really enjoyed it. Performers appeared from under shelves and out of wardrobes and danced and sang around us all in the tiny little cluttered office, and it was great. Two sisters found each other while a mother lost her memory, etc etc. You know the drill. Symbolism and intertwining lives and stuff. Really excellent. But then in the final moments we left the office and walked allong the fifth floor of the building, looking out over Salford and the G-Mex (sorry, Manchester Central) and the Briton’s Protection and those flats that replaced the Hacienda and the Palace Hotel and that Hilton building that looks a bit like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some people hate Manchester’s architecture because it’s as if some planning guy has just okayed every single application since 1846, but I love that it’s so fucked up. They should’ve done a Manchester Sim City where the only rule is that no two renovated mills can go next to one another. There has to be a lopsided glass thing in between.
So, anyway. We’d just watched this brilliant play about the people who lose things and the people that find them, and we’re looking out over the city, watching the trams pulling in and out off the stop by the G-Mex, and suddenly the play isn’t about things anymore, it’s about place and belonging and the routes we take through life and oh my god there’s a fucking choir singing and, as usual, I’ve shuffled myself right to the front so I can see really well but that means I can’t hide my tears from cast nor audience. And then I had to run across town to the Royal Exchange for another show and all I could think about was Manchester and the fact that while I may have lost my place in that city, I will never lose my relationship with it.
(The images on this post are from the Skyliner, a brilliant blog by Hayley Flynn, who writes about the history behind Manchester’s buildings, walkways, graffiti, alternative culture… It actually is the greatest place in the world.)
I went to see the new play at the Library Theatre on Friday, Rock’n’Roll by Tom Stoppard.
It’s about Communism in Czechoslovakia between 1968 and 1990, and Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, and the relationship between a family in Cambridge and a Czech academic who collects records. I loved it.
Like when I went to see Waltz With Bashir at the Cornerhouse, there was plenty that went over my head, although instead of war in Lebanon, the talk was all about workers’ democracies and spy infiltration. It certainly makes me want to find out more about the whole situation.
Something I did understand however, was the evolving soundtrack, and Jan’s reliance of Western music as a means of escapism. When his records are destroyed by police or Soviet secret service, I almost cried. The guy who plays Jan, Graeme Hawley (apparently he’s been in Coronation Street), was so brilliant. At the end, when he’s united with his love and The Rolling Stones play in Prague after the Velvet Revolution, the fact that you’ve watched him struggle through so much for so long turns it into a hugely emotional moment.
The other main male lead was also perfectly played by Hillton McRae, but Max was more of a stubborn old Marxist; less adaptable. Watching him getting older and seeing the character become more and more redundant and impotent was so sad, especially because my own grandfather is currently going mental and behaving like a little boy again, having been a powerful guy in some circles.
It should be said that the play was very very funny though. I’m probably making you all think it was a proper misery fest.
My favourite line?
Eleanor (Max’s wife, who’s dying of cancer): “Don’t try to sleep with my husband until after I’m dead, or I’ll shove Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance up your rancid cunt.”
My second favourite line?
Max: “Should we lock up our rock stars or treat them like Gods? It’s hard to know…”
This last line was resonant because Jan’s favourite band are The Plastic People Of The Universe, who are consistently censored and whose fans are attacked by Soviet forces. And then there’s Syd Barrett, who is only seen at the very start of the play, as a young man, but who strikes up a friendship with Max and Eleanor’s grand-daughter as he retreats further and further into himself. I was just looking at reviews from the earliest performances of the play in 2006, and Syd died during the first run.
The soundtrack is flawless of course. As well as “The Plastics”, there is plenty of Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground (who they sound just like) all the way up to Guns N’ Roses. The staging had been worked out so album covers from Jan’s collection were projected onto various areas as scenery was changed.
Now that the government are dishing out free tickets to people under 26, I might even go to see it again, not least because when Jan is released from prison in the 70s, he is driven to a bakery and ends up working there for twelve years.
At this point, I was like OMG I HAVE TO WORK IN A BAKERY TOO, EXCEPT IT IS THE FORCES OF CAPITALISM THAT TWIST MY ARM. TOM STOPPARD WROTE THIS PLAY FOR ME.