Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Water Still Remains - The Lowry, Salford

Writer: John Hoggarth
Director: Trevor MacFarlane 
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

‘The Water Still Remains’ is a community-led project organised by the Lowry Theatre as part of their 10th Anniversary Local Heritage Project. Ambitiously it explores the history of the former docklands in which the theatre is located and acts as a practical demonstration of community participation.

The latter, however, results in some distortions as the need to give each member of the 34-strong cast something to do and say generates a script that is over-long and too wordy. The script, by John Hoggarth, is inspired by the recollections and memories of people who lived and worked in the docklands area. It takes us from the development of the Manchester Ship Canal that facilitated the birth of the Manchester Docks through to the growth of containerisation that resulted in their closure. In-between are more intimate tales of children in 1950’s Ordsall and a courting couple in the 1960s. Hoggarth conveys a great amount of detail in an economical manner but struggles to create a sense of time or place. The more personal stories lack originality and could have taken place anywhere. The writer occasionally resorts to listing street names and local landmarks to generate audience recognition.

Trevor MacFarlane directs with sympathy and imagination. The enthusiasm of the large cast is channelled into energetic sequences that ensure statistical information is communicated without slowing the pace of the play and that even the less-confident members of the cast are audible. The action of the play spills from the stage with workers constructing the Ship Canal in the aisles of the theatre and boxes being used to represent cargo and to build the walls of the canal.
It is hard, however, to decide the purpose of the play. The issuing of a four-page questionnaire asking about the extent to which audience perceptions of The Lowry and Salford Quays have been changed by the play gives the impression of a marketing exercise as much as an evening’s entertainment.

The Water Still Remains  is at the Lowry in Manchester on 25th and 26th February 2011 
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