Theatre Review: The Masque of Anarchy, Manchester Festival
Paul Vallely is visiting professor in Public Ethics at the University of Chester and a senior research fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester. He writes on ethical, political and cultural issues. He has a fortnightly column in the Independent on Sunday and also writes for the New York Times and the Church Times. His latest book is Pope Francis – Untying the Knots. He was co-author of the report of the Commission for Africa and has chaired several development charities.
Sunday 14 July 2013
One of the little touches of genius about this year’s Manchester International Festival has been the imaginative choice of venues with which the artistic director Alex Poots has given extra resonance to the works being staged. Perhaps the best example of this was Maxine Peake’s bravura performance of The Masque of Anarchy, the long poem which Percy Byshe Shelley wrote in indignation against the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.
The venue is a building best known to Mancunians as Brannigan’s late-night drinking factory. But in 1910 when it was built it was – ironically, given the sheer quantities of alcohol swilled there in recent years – a teetotal Methodist meeting hall. The upstairs hall, where Peake performed, which has not been used since 1969, is a cavernous breath-taking galleried room with a 40-foot wooden organ façade and tiers of candlelit benches where once a massive Methodist choir would have sat.
But in Methodism, then as now, it was not the singing of the choir which was central but that of the assembly of the hundreds of people who would have thronged the space where similar numbers stood last week to watch the woman who has fast become one of the nation’s favourite actresses.
Peterloo was named in mock echo of Waterloo where the hussars of the British Army had just scored a great victory over the forces of Napoleon. Only this time the sabre-wielding cavalry were sent not upon a foreign foe but on 60,000 unarmed working men, women and children who had gathered on Peter’s field in Manchester to protest against wage cuts in the cotton mills which belched such smoke into the air above the city that horrified visitors reported the sky was permanently black. More than 600 were injured, and 15 killed, in Britain’s first major protest by a unionised industrial workforce.
For all that Marxism was associated with trade unionism by its opponents, Methodism had as great an influence. Shelley is thought of as a Romantic poet but The Masque of Anarchy is politics of the highest-octane outrage.
Dressed in a plain white shift, her blonde-hair neatly bobbed as if to be free of catching in the furious looms of the mill, Maxine Peake, in a prodigious act of memory, delivered a 50-minute rendition of Shelley’s rhetorical rhapsody with such pace and passion that it felt not like a performance so much as being present at a piece of history. Yet with the beauty and ire of an avenging angel she was not recalling the past so much as speaking to a present in which her words would have echoed as aptly now in Tahrir Square.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rowan Atkinson to sell £10 million McLaren 'supercar' he crashed into a tree and a lamppost
- 2 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 3 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Men behaving badly: Urinating while standing, 'manspreading' and the gendering of selfishness
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
Pixie Geldof signs recording deal with Stranger Records
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners