A Manchester Anthem

A breath of theatrical fresh is often much needed at big fringe-style events and it can currently be found at the Vault Festival in A Manchester Anthem. This joyously uplifting solo show from Lyle Productions and ramblemill, performed in the Cage, is an unfettered outpouring of humour, storytelling and characterisation from beginning to end accompanied by flashing lights, pulsating sounds and a first-class high-energy performance.

An unfettered outpouring of humour, storytelling and characterisation

Although labelled as a ‘coming of age play’ that description does it little justice. This is no protracted journey of introverted, navel-gazing discovery, but rather an explosive and revelatory wild weekend in the life of a young man contemplating a life-changing opportunity. But will he take it?

Writer Nick Dawkins has taken a simple storyline with a limited time span and packed it with events. This creates a pervading sense of immediacy and urgency within a tight transformative arc. Tommy (Tom Claxton) is a young working-class Mancunian. He lives with his mother. They rarely meet because his shifts as a barista rarely match hers as a nurse, but she leaves him notes and there is clearly a close bond between them. His father left him when he was six. They are rarely in touch, although he features in a scene towards the end. These are simply givens of the situation and never distract from the main thrust of Tommy’s decision-making process. A scholarship granted him a private school education; the start of a process of growth away from his roots, but that’s over now and Tommy is working his last shift before getting ready to take up a place at Oxford University. He will be the first person in his family to attend university, in fact the first in his whole street, but as he says, in a line typical of the play, “Oxford isn’t an interstellar journey away... it’s just south”. Nevertheless, it’s a giant step for him and this is his last weekend up north.

Talking of which, at 6’2” (188cm) Claxton is used to taking big strides, which he needs to do, given the dimensions of the stage. On first sight it looks a potential disaster for a monologue. With audience on three sides and measuring 5.63m wide by 2.98m deep it’s a long way from one end to the other and a lone character seated in the middle would have difficulty in making contact with half the people. Amazingly, is seems perfectly suited to this play and Claxton’s proportions. He is able to relentlessly move about, dashing from one end to the other, stopping to create locations for various happenings, having meetings with his mates and dealing with others who feature in his roller coaster of encounters and events. It’s something of a work-out and director Charlie Norburn has used this demanding configuration to maximum effect, leaving never a dull moment and requiring us to follow Claxton wherever he goes.

The night at the disco is a perfect example of this. Tommy’s ‘friends’ are there. Claxton has a voice for each and amusing descriptions of them, especially for some of the snobbier brigade who are also going up to Oxford. He locates them on different parts of the dance floor and proceeds to illustrate their different dance techniques and styles with his flexible figure consummately matching character to choreography.

It’s not just a physical journey he’s on from place to place. More importantly, it’s an emotional expedition and a quest to find answers to the lingering doubts and suspicions that lurk in his mind. Events mount up as providing evidence Tommy must weigh up before he gets on that train to a new life. In so doing issues of social class loom large; matters of mobility that have nothing to do with physical fitness. Claxton draws us into that mental melting pot so that we go with go with him every step of the way.The nightclub with all its highs ends in a trivial but embarrassing event. He leaves and is thrust back into a world miles away from that set, where we meet more of the people who lives are unrelated to that crowd's privileged existence. Reality sinks in for Tommy and the road he’s travelled on this night’s wild journey finally takes him home. This time his mother is there.

A Manchester Anthem, has punchy yet moving, well-structured writing from Dawkins and an outstanding performance from Claxton, who clearly enjoys every minute of this production, giving out assuring vibes that we are in safe hands. Importantly it also has a strong team behind it, from Producer Rebecca Lyle to the creatives: Set and Costume Designer Anna Niamh Gorman, Stage Manager Emily Darley, Lighting Designer Caelan Oran and Sound Designer Sam Baxter; the latter two really having their work cut out in this show with a host of unrelenting changes.

Finally the show wouldn’t be complete without some pulsating House Music that goes with the title. No prizes for guessing N-Joi, Anthem. Tommy loves it! Join him in the grungy labrynth at Vault and ‘Feel the melody that's in the air’. Enjoy.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
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The Blurb

Flashing lights. Sticky floors. Dancing shoes.

Tommy, a young working-class Mancunian, has been accepted into Oxford. He's the first in his family to go to uni - the first on his street in fact... Join him on his last big night in Manchester before leaving the city he loves and disappearing South.

A riotous coming of age tale exploring class and identity. Expect humour, heart, and a night out to remember.

A Manchester Anthem has been developed from a work-in-progress under the title Dancing to Disco.

A Manchester Anthem is supported by Brixton House, LUNG Theatre and The Space Theatre. In partnership with The Sutton Trust and The Linacre Institute.

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