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Intimate whispers & confrontational staring competitions

Staged within a semi-secret location in Ancoats, Angel Meadow reimagines life in the 19th century slum of the same name in a quasi-contemporary setting. HOME Digital Reporter Ben Williams reviews it for you…

Audiences of just eight meet at Cutting Room Square ten minutes before their performance begins; from there you’re led into the secret location and through a mucky looking glass. Over the next 50 minutes your experiences are all unique as you’re pushed and dragged your separate ways to navigate a surreal vision of a hellish existence.

It’s important to say that this is not theatre for bystanders, it’s immersive and you’re very much involved. I got exactly what I’d hoped from the experience which was a proper emotional response, I felt slightly unsettled in parts and towards the end deeply moved. Although partially out of my comfort zone, I am less bothered about sharing personal space with an actor than I am being plucked from my darkened seat for a cringe worthy moment under the lights.

The piece is cleverly designed so the audience can never stop long enough to gain their bearings. I was frequently whisked away from my group to explore rooms and meet characters that nobody else knew about. It all adds to the house of horrors experience, our group were only together at the very start and very end of the performance. Where is she? Where has he just been? Why am I on my own? I’ve been twice now and I still can’t quite piece together the mechanics of the performance.

Setting the story of a 19th century slum against a contemporary backdrop is an effective device. Framing historic events within a recognisable setting makes it feel more real, this isn’t a trip to Styal Mill or the Tower of London, this is happening right now and you’re a part of it.

The cast are flawless, you have to remind yourself that it’s all make believe as you share intimate whispers and hold confrontational staring competitions. It seems unfair to pick out individuals, it’s a totally convincing ensemble, but the performances of Caitriona Ennis and Laura Murray in the final scenes are unforgettable. It’s difficult to watch as they draw you in and leave you feeling complicit in the cruel outcome. You go in as ‘nice people’ but come out feeling dirty.

Much will be made of the darkness in this piece, but there’s also a fleeting tenderness. As cities continue to sandblast history and wash away their characters, there’s something to remember about these places and the people who made them.

An unmissable production.

Angel Meadow runs until Sun 29 June in Ancoats, Manchester. Tickets are available online here or from Cornerhouse Box Office in person or over the phone on 0161 200 1500.