This former market hall turned event-space in the heart of Manchester played host to Cotton Panic! — A piece of ‘gig theatre’ (not a musical) that explored Manchester’s delicate relationship with cotton and the slave trade it once exacerbated and depended upon.
Linking the histories of North England and the American South, the presentation mixed projection, video performances, interviews and live music into an engaging 70-minute spectacle.
Front of stage was actress Jane Horrocks, who through spoken word and song, teleported the audience through the rise, and fall, of industrial Manchester.
Alongside her partner Nick Vivian and band Wrangler, contemporary electronic rhythms segued with samples of mill machinery.
Clashing metals and rising steam, give way to moments of re?ective silence. The screeching, reassuring clangs of the mill machines transport you back to a time when people worked to live.
Cotton, once the lifeblood of the North-West, spurred a population boom in the early 19th Century that was closely aligned to the vast shipping of cotton from colonial plantations.
At the heart of this piece is an exploration of what it meant to live in a the times of decline, brought about by the abolition of slavery and the re-invention of Manchester’s industrial landscape.
Hailing from Lancashire, just on the outskirts of Manchester, Horrocks offers a personable and tangible insight into the men and women who struggled to survive.
At times celebratory, other times harrowing, Horrocks’ pristine vocals fracture the industrialised soundscape. Soaring high into the decaying rafters of this Victorian market, you’d imagine the shattering of overhead glass should it still exist.
Ambitious in scope and narrative approach, nonetheless at times this performance feels intimate and impassioned and whilst there may be some lack of cohesion between its constituent parts, it is a bold and worthwhile show that sums up all that is possible at the Manchester International Festival.
For more on the Manchester International Festival and it’s remaining programme click here.