Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Parade, Hope Mill Manchester 21/5/16

This was my first visit to Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats (or New Islington if you want to be posh!), and I wasn’t expecting that much from such an unassuming exterior, but as you walk through the door into the cosy and welcoming bar area you begin to realise that your preconceptions have been very much misplaced! That theme of confounding my expectations continued with the reason for my visit, a new production of the musical Parade, which completely blew me away; so much so that I was back seeing it for a second time three days later!

The story is extremely moving and powerful and is based on true events. In 1913 in Atlanta, Georgia a young factory girl, Mary Phagan, is found brutally murdered. The quest for someone to punish overpowers the need for truth and the finger of blame points at factory supervisor Leo Frank, a Yankee and a Jew so a convenient scapegoat for the racist attitudes still embedded in the southern states. The subsequent framing of this outsider, and the attempts by him and his loyal wife Lucille, to fight back, make for troubling and deeply moving viewing as the piece progresses to its heartbreakingly inevitable conclusion against this background of hatred, intolerance and political posturing.

Director James Baker has brought together an amazingly talented team to create this production. Whilst the Hope Mill space is relatively small and intimate, there is nothing small scale about this show and the quality of every aspect of it was outstanding. Goodness knows how you deliver to this level on a limited budget, I suspect via many talented and dedicated people and a lot of time and effort, but it is all worth it.
The set is pared back but very effective, largely wooden pallet based which blended beautifully with the exposed brickwork of the mill. The lighting design was beautiful, partnering the stage action to great effect. A live nine piece band had somehow also been squeezed into the space, which, when combined with the powerful and gorgeous voices of the talented cast, could have happily filled a larger venue, although I felt the sound design worked brilliantly for me with a good balance across the space.

There is not a weak link amongst the supremely talented cast, equally in terms of their vocal and acting performances. Matt Mills and Shekinah McFarlane’s Act 2 opener, A Rumblin' and A Rollin' was a particular highlight, allowing both of their voices to shine. Andrew Gallo as the slimy prosecutor Dorsey did an excellent job at making you hate him as his chose ambition over the truth, and Aiden Banyard as the Young Soldier and Frankie gave a particularly fine performance.

Tom Lloyd, in the central role of Leo was superb. It’s a complex character to portray as his character goes through one of the biggest journeys, but he balances the pride, initial indignation, growing fear and disbelief, and the deepening admiration and love for his wife fantastically well.

Laura Harrison, as his brave and determined wife Lucille was simply stunning. She has a clarity in her powerful voice that is just beautiful, and her portrayal of her characters emotional journey was exceptional.

The choice of production was excellent, a challenging, complex tale full of prejudice and politics that sticks with you long after the music has stopped. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this production had a life beyond Hope Mill but I feel very privileged to have seen it there. The intimacy of the space heightened the sense of involvement; you felt quite helpless watching the awful injustice unfold and being powerless to stop it. It was totally gripping from start to finish, and, whilst I held it together on first viewing despite being a bit of an emotional wreck, on second viewing they got me and I was a total blubbing wreck in the front row during Leo and Lucille’s final duet!

Deserved standing ovations have followed every performance in this limited run. Due to demand the production has now been extended to the 11th June and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. A superb achievement from all involved.

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