I lived in London for 11 years and depended on the tube for every single journey I made. Even now, I can plot a route across the capital in 30 seconds; I relish the challenge of finding the quickest route from A to B.
3 years into my Manchester residency (parp) and I still miss the speed and commonality of Tfl. My commute to work now feels like a portal into ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. Trains are slow and they smell, a mixture of pollen, scotch egg and urine. So I don’t leave the city centre much. I’ve become a little insular. But it turns out that it’s okay, because I only needed to walk 5 minutes from my flat to enter a world not dissimilar to how I imagine Hells Kitchen once was, a world of more than just spit and sawdust.
On Friday I went to see Angel Meadow, the inaugural project from HOME, delivered by the acclaimed ANU Productions. We were told to meet in a square on the other side of the Oldham Road and I guess, await further instructions. Curiosity piqued, I had a look online. One reviewer had found it too much and had to leave. Great. I’d had a jangly week at work and would take ‘too little’ over ‘too much’ any day. The pull of the sofa and a bland world cup tie between whosit and the other team was very strong.
Thank God I ignored this urge, because Angel Meadow was without doubt the finest bit of theatre that I have ever experienced. And I mean experienced in the most literal sense of the word.
Angel Meadow takes place in and around the Edinburgh Castle, a derelict pub which called time 10 years ago after a particularly nasty riot of Oldham and Wrexham fans. The Castle itself is slap bang in the middle of Ancoats, an area not unfamiliar with blood grudges. Ancoats is the home of the industrial revolution and subsequently home to some seriously messy gang wars between rival factions who moved there to work, notably Irish and Italian communities. Apparently the cast and creative team had arrived in Manchester without a space in mind and having discovered the castle, they moulded the piece from the lives and histories that the pub and surrounding area revealed to them; times when women believed in the devil and drank bleach for their sins, where men formed allegiances and rivalries at remarkable speed, where children were cheap and life was very fucking quick.
I’m not going to describe the show in detail, because I wouldn’t do it justice (I’ve wrestled with how to write this since seeing the performance 2 days ago) but also on the offchance that the company may perform it again, in which case I urge you to sell your least favourite body organ to procure a ticket. Truth be told, I couldn’t speak of the full experience if I wanted to, as I only caught a fragment of it. Each performance is for eight people at a time and we were picked off, reassembled and reformed many times over the course of an hour, but always made privy to performances of such heart-breaking conviction that it felt like a gift and a blessing to bear witness.
Angel Meadow is totally immersive I’ve seen companies like Punchdrunk and Shunt and never felt truly touched – how could I with 50 other people in the room? And then, for the inhibited amongst us, there’s always the nagging anxiety: ‘Don’t pick on me, please don’t single me out’. Involving the audience can be enthralling, but it isn’t the same as making them perform. When this happens, encounters become forced, uncomfortable and leave Sue the office manager feeling exposed, like she’s fallen short all at the same time. Angel Meadow avoided this by not turning us into performers, but by taking away the audience. We fell through the space in this funny old run-down pub, sometimes landing together, sometimes alone. I might grease up a boxer for a fight or have a chat in the kitchen about flowers. Either way it’s just me (and maybe one other) and the performer, no-one to mediate or judge. We were free to play.
And if this still sounds eggy and uncomfortable, it isn’t. The performers are so extraordinarily committed that you allow them to pull you through this sordid wormhole without resistance. You move from watching a play, to watching people, to being part of the group. The final event was delivered with such energy and conviction that I came out shaking. And I know that sounds like a shitty theatre critic thing to say, but I’m not wearing a top hat, I’m not arsed about the fourth wall and I don’t cry at soliloquies. I don’t care for a lot of the stuff that I’m supposed to, stuff that’s ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘ award-winning’. I’m a human being who thought she wanted to spend the night on the sofa and ended up having an earth-shattering experience in Angel Meadow.