TRIAL

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Site specific – Bolton Grand Council Chamber.

Part of Reveal 18

Written by Rosina Carbone, Nisa Cole, Sarah McDonald Hughes and Eve Steele

Directed by Martyn Gibbons

Monkeywood Theatre in association with the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

I am a liar. We run, down the steps, past the celebration, past the crowds. He is not guilty and I am a liar.

Bolton Grand Council chamber was once an actual courtroom. Sitting in this space feels alien, slightly scary like maybe I’ve done something wrong. An authoritative voice says “All Rise” and so Trial starts with four women in a courtroom performing a verbatim piece that is the framework for this new piece by Monkeywood Theatre. Chillingly the words we hear are transcripts from an actual court case about the historical grooming and sexual abuse of young girls. Interspersed through the transcript are 4 original pieces written and performed by the 4 actresses on stage. They share a common theme, highlighting women on trial in the courtroom and in society – women’s experience of being disbelieved, discounted, shamed and vilified.

This is a strong and powerful piece which conveys its #MeToo message eloquently and is at times incredibly poignant, hauntingly sad and is at all times a strong statement that change must come in our legal system and our Society. The verbatim pieces are perhaps the weak link in this piece but that is most likely due to how they struggle to flow, undoubtedly hindered by the information rescinded to protect the individuals involved. However it remains a searing indictment of our legal system and its treatment of women on the witness stand in sexual assault cases. A study by the CPS (Criminal Prosecution Service) found in a 17 month period there were with 6000 rape prosecutions and only 35 for false allegations, yet only 6% of complaints resulted in convictions.

Astral Twin by Rosina Carbone is a two hander highlighting the callous and vicious bullying and systematic shaming of young girls in school. It perfectly describes the in group/ out group mentality in the classroom. How we can all shine and blossom in the warmth of acceptance and friendship but shiver and shrivel when that warmth is removed. Carbone infuses this piece with a poetic flow and evokes some beautiful imagery that creates a vivid snapshot of lost friendships and the unfairness of double standards for girls.

Muck by Nisa Cole is a monologue describing a schoolgirl being groomed by a teacher with a catastrophic outcome for her education and her future. It is a powerfully written and performed – electrifying the space with the brutal unfairness of a vulnerable child discounted and written off because of her background. Cole bring an emotive physicality to this role that is mesmerising and haunts long after the performance ends.

Small Town by Sarah McDonald Hughes describes a young woman who likes a drink and going out with her friends to party and meet boys. Her character is fun loving and carefree until an assault results in rape and a lurid court case. This piece snapshots the double standards for men and women and is an acute observation on the lasting harm of being raped twice over by the assailant and by society. All the positives of loving being a girl and loving family and football are stripped away, leaving only alcohol as a constant comforter and ballast.

Unreliable by Eve Steele brings all 4 women on stage as prisoners going into court to plead their cases or in the case of Steele to be a witness against her uncle in a historic abuse case. This is a women already wounded and irrevocably damaged by her early experiences and therefore somehow unreliable as a witness against her abuser. There is simply no happy ending for some of these women and Steele’s performance crackles and fizzes with the injustice of her situation compares to the regard and protection afforded by society to her abuser.

I saw this piece in development at Reveal17 and it has clearly been a labour of love, tenderness and justifiable outrage. The stories told all ring true and authentic. Working as a psychotherapist I have listened to similar haunting stories and the importance of being heard and really listened to is always tantamount to any path to healing. There has clearly been a lot of work done with women’s support groups so this piece is an important validation for the women in those groups. Trial is a powerful piece that has a lot to say for women for women who are often voiceless. I was slightly surprised to find that the director was a man however men are also affected by assaults to sisters, mothers, partners, daughters, granddaughters and friends. Martin Gibbons has ensured that it is the women in this piece who are clearly heard and remembered.

Part of Reveal 18 until April 28th

The Manchester Project

HOME

Monkeywood Theatre Company 

Director: Martin Gibbons

The Manchester theatre company Monkeywood have created The Manchester Project as a celebration of Manchester and what it means to be Mancunion. Manchester is home to all the 19 writers and the actors involved and fittingly it is being performed at HOME.
On the stage are a series of simple white cubes and hexagonal blocks which evoke the honeycombs of a hive in which the Manchester we know interconnects and holds our creative worker bees/Mancunions. The bee has been  our symbol since The Industrial Revolution and adorns the mosaic floors of our Town Hall, our public bins and the tattooed skin of a community resilient in the face of terrorism. 

It is easy to think of the Manchester we know as portrayed by Coronation Street or on the music tours with The Ha├žienda and The Salford Lads Club or the rousing poetry of Tony Walsh or Mike Garry. What Monkeywood have done is to give a voice to the wider arena of the whole city spread across 19 tiny plays that criss cross the City from Chorlton to Droylsden to Middleton to Rusholme and back to its core the City Centre. 

First up is Reuben Johnson performing his own piece Little Hulton. Opening with a blast of fresh energy he moves across the platforms recreating the playgrounds of his childhood like a bee between flowers. This beautiful, questioning piece conveys a sense of attachment- we may leave this city but it has the power to pull us back.

Reuben Johnson – Little Hulton

There are five actors on stage and 19 plays. It is astonishing and impressive how the actors power through such a range of varied pieces without pause or break. There is a lot to take in as each tiny play is packed with poetic imagery. The brevity ensures that each writer wants to make every single work count and create impact.  The direction by Martin Gibbons creates a sense of flow which is seamless and elegant. The music used is a smattering of iconic tracks opening with Joy Division Love Will Tear Us Apart and ending with Buzzcocks Ever Fallen In Love. The Manchester bands and the buzz of a solitary bee mesh these little gems into a cohesive whole.

We flit to Levenshulme where the tone is gritty and sarky and the image is of meat raffles and possible hook ups at the weekly nude bathing sessions. James Quinn and Curtis Cole are clearly relishing the words of writer Gareth George. Prestwich by Becky Prestwich brings the lions of Heaton Park and the largest mental asylum in Europe. Eve Steele really shines as she evokes the sense of being different or other whether in spirit, religion or ethnicity.

Timperley conjures up the iconic Frank Sidebottom while Rusholme revisits the bee with the black and yellow uniform of a school born from Manchesters’ proud history of female emanicapation. Rebekah Harrison’s Droylsden is a poetic, tender and evocative portrait of a young soldier not forgotten by his community. Meriel Schofield and James Quinn bring quiet dignity to a piece that reminds us of the losses and sacrifices that run deep in the story of every community. 

Old Trafford glimpses the memory of the cosy domesticity of a couple in their first home with an image of a couple dancing in their kitchen while over in Burnage a cab meter is running and there’s Sunday dinner at Our Kids. In Middleton we queue in Tommy’s Chippy with writer Chris Hoyle who vividly portrays small minds, small town chatter as he prepares for his escape to the City centre via the newly “done up” bus terminal. A young homosexual given joyous opportunities to explore in Canal Street.

Chris Hoyle – Middleton

Didsbury reminds us of Manchester’s rich, musical heritage where everyone seems to have a story in their front room. Samantha Siddall explores heritage and what we hold dear in our community in Denton as a town planner looks at the outcome of his work. Chorlton has the largest public graveyard in Europe as Becky Garrod recalls family strolls and rituals. Withington sees James Quinn relish the closure of Greggs as Pasta La Vista as old and new businesses try to co-exist in the community.

Ian Kershaw writes poignantly of Harpurhey with the racist comics in The Embassy Club and the horrific burning of the local dogs home. The tram stop at Cornbrook is a bleak, blank canvas yet peel back the layers of history and Eve Steele and Sarah McDonald Hughes see Pomona Palace with the magic of lions and tigers in its pleasure gardens. 

Cathy Crabb takes us back in time to a pub in Failsworth where Meriel Scholfield brillantly evokes a truly beautiful man Ernie Jump, whose front teeth are fashioned from Scrabble blocks. In Moss Side despite stereotypical expectations Curtis Cole conveys kindliness and humour and carnivals without the risk of being shot or sodomized! Sarah McDonald Hughes deftly paints Flixton as having little of merit bar differing sized fields yet there is still fun to be had in a place where nothing happens. 

Eve Steele – City Centre

The closing piece by Eve Steele is of course the City Centre and what a celebration it is. I fucking love town. It is a passionate love poem to Manchester city centre for being my place as a mad little punk. My second home. 

The Manchester Project is glorious. It is a five star theatrical TripAdvisor for Manchester. Like the honey from a bee it is a sticky, messy, sweet and golden stream that glues us together as Mancunians. 

At HOME January 12th and 26th as part of PUSH2018.


Portrait Photographer – David Fawcett