On Corporation Street

The biggest bomb in Britain to be detonated since World War II exploded in our city 20 years ago this week. In it’s wake, nobody died, but the beating heart of the city arrested, rubble strewn over the area where minutes before families had been laughing and shopping. Lives, while not ended, were changed. The office workers cut with glass, the people who walked by or touched the van that exploded, traumatised by their brush with death.

20 years on, Manchester has rebuilt itself, the mighty Beetham Tower casts it’s shadow; we’ve hosted the Commonwealth Games and we have the distinction of being one of Lonely Planet’s Places to Go for 2016. Yet, the myth surrounding the bomb still persists. One enduring symbol is the lonely postbox on Corporation Street left standing by the bomb.

Now, Irish company ANU, fresh from its last success in Manchester with the acclaimed Angel Meadow, bring the bomb back with On Corporation Street. Based on the testimonies of residents of Manchester, it’s a more small scale venture than the source event would suggest.

Through the production you’ll end up in the staff room of the Infirmary, with an Irish nurse who can only apologise for her accent; trapped in the store room of a shop with a young stock-taker who emerges into the devastation; with a woman patiently waiting for her keys at the edge of the exclusion zone. All of these vignettes open up personal experiences of that day.

But whilst these vignettes are affecting, there’s not enough of them. Additionally, sound bleed is a major issue with the production. Whilst the constrained spaces do not help this, hearing snippets of what is to come, what you’ve just heard or what you are missing (not every group will experience every episode) serves to disorient you, but also brings you out of the emotion of the experience.

On Corporation Street

This said, the transitions are expertly handled with the limitations of executing a promenade performance in a busy working space overcome for the most part. On Corporation Street is absorbing, but the movement from one area to another rarely pauses for breath to allow you to consider the implications of each episode.

The star of the show is Owen Boss’ and Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting and stage design. Blank spaces become optical illusions. The imagery in the play is very potent, from the crystal rain that descends on the stage to the creepily fascinating mannequin room, the images are are once intriguing and claustrophobic at the same time and the rubble of the city has as much life as it did prior to the bomb.

On Corporation Street has a few problems with pacing, the abrupt ending providing more hilarity than any closure or reflection. But amongst the disjointed atmosphere are moments of brilliance and moments of candid reflection that make this an absorbing reaction to a defining event in the city. Like Manchester Sound, an earlier immersive production looking at the Peterloo Massacre, there are flaws, but these productions shed new and previously explored light on the life and times of our magnificent city.

Overall, The Fiction Stroker gives On Corporation Street 3 stars. 

On Corporation Street runs at HOME from 10 June 2016–25 June 2016, Tickets from £10

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