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Angel Meadow: Be ready for anything

Kate Feld talks to ANU, the theatre company behind a performance that takes its inspiration from one of Manchester’s most notorious slums.

For a theatrical company so celebrated in their native Ireland, it’s hard to believe that current site-specific play Angel Meadow is ANU’s English premiere. “I can’t tell you how thrilled we are,” Artistic Director Louise Lowe says. “Being given this opportunity is pretty spectacular, and to learn about a place with such a dense, rich texture is thrilling for us.”

There are few areas of Manchester with as compelling a history as Angel Meadow, the Ancoats neighbourhood where Irish immigrants exiled by famine struggled to survive in a slum Friedrich Engels called “hell upon the Earth.” The fact that it is an Irish company coming over to tease out its stories seems fitting. Lowe says they chose this place because they felt a strong connection to those stories, and were transfixed by the shocking horror of life there.

“There was a perpetual twilight in the air, from smoke. There were women living in basements with pigs, and people who had never seen flowers,” Lowe said. “And there was a common belief that the devil visited Ancoats every week to make young girls drink bleach.”

A mix of folklore, court documents and oral histories has coalesced into the story of a woman called Angel, whose husband has just died. Lowe says ANU decided to look at the place through the lens of now/then/now rather than do yet another Victorian re-enactment; this back-and-forth approach presents challenges, but delivers a bigger impact when it’s done right.

The action unfolds around a derelict pub with a “colourful and chequered past”. And the staging is unconventional. “Our work creates a communion between the audience and the performers,” Lowe says. “Actors may address you by name, and give you the opportunity to make decisions that will affect how the rest of your journey goes.”

Her last tip for the audience: “wear sensible shoes,” she says with a laugh. To which we would add: be ready for anything.

Angel Meadow runs until Sun 29 June in Ancoats, Manchester. There are a limited number of tickets remaining which are available online here or from Cornerhouse Box Office in person or over the phone on 0161 200 1500.