Get in line for industrial-strength theatre

Murrays' Mills in Manchester is the perfect setting for an immersive take on Dickens's bleak, grimy Hard Times, says Paul Vallely

There is something claustrophobic about the long, low gallery at the heart of Murrays' Mills in Great Ancoats. It is not far from the stylish urban refit that is the eastern quarter of modern Manchester. But it feels a century away from all the upmarket warehouse loft conversions only streets away.

It is apt that this place, where recession halted the tide of redevelopment, has been chosen as the venue for what promises to be a memorable stage adaptation of Charles Dickens's grim industrial novel Hard Times. The medium will become the message as the audience are promenaded through the mill to encounter the different episodes in Dickens's grotesque and scathing indictment of a world in which the higher things in life are sacrificed on the altar of economic necessity. As savage cuts in public spending loom, it is a world which now seems nearer than it has for decades.

The play's director, Chris Honer, walked me through the mill, which is littered with the odd bit of old machinery, broken wheels and great textile hampers – remnants of the days when the building was the pride of Adam Murray, the great Victorian spinner of fine yarn, in what was amongst the world's earliest steam-powered cotton factories. It will not be hard for audiences to feel themselves immersed in the grimy, backbreaking, primitive prosperity of Dickens's Coketown. The low ceiling will only add to the sense of oppression.

Honer is director of Manchester's Library Theatre, which is homeless for four years while it waits for its new home to be built after being evicted from the city's Central Library last year. "It's prompted us to look at making drama in places that don't normally have theatre," he says.

The audience will arrive at the mill to a living tableau of Dickensian Britain, beginning with performers from the circus, whose seedy exuberance is the catalyst for much of the questioning of the utilitarian ethic which brought industrial success to Victorian Britain at such a human cost. From there they will walk along the long gallery, through the school of the hardline educationalist Thomas Gradgrind, the factory of the self-satisfied businessman Josiah Bounderby and the slum tenements of the down-trodden loom-workers in a cross-section of a 19th-century mill town.

Hard Times is a bleak novel, even if imagination and love – qualities alien to the bullying Gradgrind – do have a triumph of sorts. It is a tale that will resonate with a contemporary audience for its drudge hero, Stephen Blackpool, an extraordinarily decent man who is fundamentally a victim of the economic and social circumstances in which he finds himself trapped.

They will recognise, too, Dickens's cartoon-like grotesques such as lickspittle clerk Bitzer, whose every action is calculated for material gain, the emotionally illiterate Mrs Gradgrind, who memorably says "I think there's a pain somewhere in the room, but I couldn't positively say that I have got it", and the union demagogue Slackbridge. "Dickens's attitude to organised labour is problematic," observes Honer wryly. But most of the story is inescapably contemporary, so much so, the director adds, that there is no need to point up parallels by having the wealthy, callow young London gentleman James Harthouse played as though he were George Osborne.

The new dramatisation by Charles Way places a more modern emphasis on the resilience of the women which forms the background to the novel, but otherwise, says Honer, the play will lead the promenading audience on "a compelling journey through damaged childhoods, overbearing businessmen, circus wonders, forbidden romance, industrial strife and redemptive love."

The production will feature music by Colin Sell, the resident pianist on Radio 4's I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, and a supporting cast of local people as extras, including one who worked at Murrays' Mills in its heyday.



'Hard Times', Murrays' Mills, Manchester (www.librarytheatre.com) 8 June to 2 July

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star