Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Scuttlers @ Royal Exchange, 10.02.15

The gangs of Manchester have often been represented via artistic media, as exemplified recently by the Brothers’ Day film launched at Moston Small Cinema.

Carrying a loose similarity to BBC’s The Mill in its reminder of the moth-eaten working conditions for cotton mill workers, Scuttlers instead focuses on the Victorian youth gangs of Ancoats, whose recalcitrant hostility saw territorial wars across the canal bridges.

What immediately strikes you about this production is its walls of sound created by Manchester-based music producer Denis Jones. On taking your seat, you’re welcomed into the gritty, industrial world of late 19th century Manchester. This is achieved partly by the core cast spinning webs on the central loom, but more so by Jones’s clattering cataclysms emanating from his control tower, which throw 21st century futurism amongst the mechanical oppression in slightly anachronistic fashion.

The plot, intertwining the lives of the Prussia Street and Bengal Street gangs, is enhanced by the claustrophobic nature of the Royal Exchange’s circular theatre setting. With all events set within a half-mile radius, the proximity of work, rest and play on Ancoats’ streets is carried out to great effect, as the core cast and extras alike crisscross the floorboards, appearing and disappearing from all angles in cohesive segue.

Focus swaps between the gangs with some impartial – or at least less dogmatic – floaters drifting between the two. Susan (Anna Krippa), a nurse at the Dispensary whose campaign has been highlighted by the production programme, is one character whose line of work noticeably brings her into contact with both sides of the divide. Her relationship with returned soldier Joe (Tachia Newall) is one that serves to add depth away from the brewing belligerence.

In terms of performances, David Judge, playing the charming Chorlton-to-Ancoats migrant Thomas Clayton, confidently delivers some of the wittiest lines of the script, aided by the surrounding sounds akin to Aphex Twin shuffles that decorate his nimble dancing scenes. Jones’s paralysing clamours are again the prevalent in a later fight scene, throwing volume spikes like punches. It may have been the wintry draught, but I felt a shiver down my spine at one moment of tense timing.

Noticeable flaws were when sentences trailed away. At least one section of the audience at a time was losing words to the auditorium. Some fluctuated in this respect, but among the least audible were Kieran Urquhart’s Prussia Street leader George, whose tender tones were in stark contrast to the angry gang dynamics on display at the top of the Tigers’ tree – Jimmy (Dan Parr) and Sean (Bryan Parry). This was rarely the case for Rona Morison's Theresa, whose relatively seasoned and streetwise character was played with an assured guile.

Overall, director Rona Munro has incisively pieced together a jigsaw displaying a broken society, with the familiarity of the local reference points adding to its allure.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photos: Jonathan Keenan, c/o Royal Exchange Theatre

Scuttlers continues at Royal Exchange until Saturday 7 March - tickets are available here. Supplementary events include Gangland Manchester, which is a discussion on 21st gangs in the city hosted by Dave Haslam, and walking tours led by Manchester Guided Tours.

No comments:

Post a Comment