It was a day like any other day.
A delicate expression of some quite distressing subject matter
Working in partnership with Liv’s Trust, a charity founded by one of the victim’s families to support young people in Greater Manchester, 10:31 MCR combines verbatim interview with online vlog and newsreel audio to explore the goings-on before, during and after the MEN Arena attack of 2017, when 22 people were killed during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester city centre. This is a piece of applied theatre devised by an Essex-based company, which one could argue gives them the emotional distance to present a compelling and coherent narrative. Sadly, for me, the result falls a little short.
Without complicated props or scenery, this three-person ensemble draws heavily upon a fusion of dance and physical theatre to evoke some of the more recognisable scenes from the evening. Well-rehearsed and fast-paced, these movement sequences become a delicate expression of some quite distressing subject matter, remaining mostly abstract and avoiding the grotesque for which I am thankful. Muted facial expressions create a blank canvas, upon which a distorted soundscape of audio clips and Bon Iver rock-pop can dictate the mood: both Oasis and Ariana are again, mercifully absent. On a less muted tone, I found it more than a little uncomfortable to watch the joyous pre-concert recreations for which the actors reverted to a rather patronising pastiche of teenage behaviour, which in context felt rather off the mark.
In 2017, most of the rhetoric surrounding the attacks was concerning the strength and unity of the Manchester community, and I do admire the lack of hyperbole in the script. It is a contrast to see a production that embraces the vulnerability and fears expressed by some interviewees and I would have liked to see more of this rather than some of the more repetitive movement sections which did little to enhance the emotional or narrative structure of the production.
Community theatre provides a creative outlet for groups who may not otherwise have access to a theatrical space. 10:31 MCR may not make everyone happy – their director admits that reactions have been ‘mixed’ – but as with all verbatim theatre, it provides a raw, honest channel for those who were directly involved in the process to communicate their side of a story. To review this show for what it is, which is the product of a research-based Applied Drama project, then ostensibly it is a success – and as a fundraiser for their chosen charity, even more so. However, to those with a more intimate connection to the attacks who are expecting, or maybe hoping for, a sense of deeper catharsis, I would approach 10:31 MCR with caution.