The Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester is my favourite theatre and the one I know the best. I used go regularly with my teaching friends and we saw some great productions. So good I cant remember any of them. The school where I taught developed some real acting talent. The English Department, run by my friend Stuart, was particularly strong and many of the kids went onto the Oldham Theatre Workshop that spawned a number of TV actors, including many of the Coronation Street cast. So it was good to see that the play I went to see yesterday was directed by one of these comprehensive kids from Oldham to whom I taught French. Matthew Dunster was one of those well-behaved pupils with neat handwriting and a cute face that teachers love. He developed a love for the theatre after being chosen to lead in ‘Kes’. Apparently he has written and directed a number of plays; ‘Saturday night and Sunday morning’ is the latest, the iconic play by Alan Sillitoe. The Exchange is a theatre in the round, like Shakespeare’s original theatres, and you feel that you are part of the action. Props are few and actors seem to be constantly on the stage. The fairground and factory scenes were really well stylised. The abortion scene was harrowing, a credit to the acting.
The main character, Authur, is a hero, working class but not poor. He has plenty of disposable income to spend on fancy suits, Christmas presents, boozing and going out. He’s despicable but the girls love him. I wanted to shout at the women who competed for his attention. The ending when he (almost but didn’t) proposed was particularly depressing. I loved the 50s music that provided the backtrack. Buddy Holly, Conway Twitty and the like. But it also reminded me of the impending doom we lived under: the Russians might drop an H bomb on us at any time. That was a palpable fear. Maybe that was why people lived for the moment and tried to ensure that ‘the bastards don’t grind us down’, as Authur would say. He was one of them, but in a different way. His factory mate, Jack, (a recent murderer from Coronation Street), wore the same brown overall that my Dad wore in his factory job. I remember it because he wore it for gardening after he retired. And the women wore the same 50s fitted waist, floral dresses that I remember my Mum wearing when I was small. It was a nostalgic viewing. A depressing portrayal of the working class, at their most violent and desperate. Living for the weekend with its attractions and addictions. Perhaps some things remain the same.