Friday, 24 March 2023

STUDENT THEATRE REVIEW: The Manchester Opera - The main theatre, City College, Manchester

The second year acting students presented their own take on the 'Mack the Knife' story at their home theatre within the walls of city College, Manchester this afternoon. For this they updated the story to the present day, and set the narrative firmly and squarely in Manchester. 

The stage showed the 'shop' at the rear of a pub, owned by Mr Peachum (Charlie Forrest), complete with clothes on rails and hanging from every available place possible, including from the rafters. Peachum is a wrong'un, that much is clear, but his 'legitimate' business is controlling all the beggars and lending licences in the city. His daughter, Polly (Stephanie Wallace) has formed a relationship, and indeed marries the most notorious villain, Macheath, aka Mack The Knife (Theodore Robinson), and it is this that is the catalyst for the ensuing animosity and eventual undoing and comeuppance of Macheath. Although, in this version, despite it being titled, The Manchester Opera, an alternative happy ending was found...!

Using contemporary songs, choreography, and a very much tongue-in-cheek style of presentation, it threw many of these young students very much out of their normal comfort zone, but they all rose to the challenge - as indeed, they will need to be able to turn their hand to any skill at the drop of a hat once in the bear-pit of the big wide world! Considering that these are students whose main focus is on acting, the quality of singing and dancing was actually quite high and I was verily impressed by the way these young students handled this part of the performance. Perhaps it was because they had chosen contemporary 'pop' songs in the main, and so were more familiar with these songs beforehand. 

A few things confused me about this play, and I can only assume that it was self-written / devised, as there is no credit to a writer on the programme, and I cannot find anything online. First, and perhaps, the most important, was the fact that the updating only worked to a point. There were some rather clunky juxtapositions which simply jarred, at least for this reviewer. And second, I simply did not understand why Polly was given a northern Irish accent when both her parents, never mind the setting, were Mancunian.

The sound levels this afternoon were also not optimal. At times the singing and dancing was perhaps a little too loud, and yet there were characters and lines of dialogue which were simply inaudible. Most if not all the cast wore mics, and yet if the mics were not switched, then the cast were whispering, and if the mics were switched on, then they were miming! This was particularly apparent with the whores in the brothel. 

However, this was a rather upbeat, and very Mancunian version of a story of double-dealing, blackmail, murder and villainy, and was performed with obvious zeal and zest by this young cast, revelling in acting in a "play with music" and providing us with some interesting and seedy characters. If these people do exist in real life, then they do so in a part of Manchester I have yet to visit...!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 23.3.23