With so many festive shows to choose from, you could easily bypass The Manchester Project at Christmas.
But anyone who saw the original Manchester Project two years ago will realise that hearing 14 Manchester voices exploring what it is like to work, rest and play is just as enticing as eating a Mars bar.
Listening to and experiencing so many great stories featuring a huge variety of characters – cheeky, dodgy, kind, heartbroken but always honest – makes you question why you love Manchester. The answer is explored in each beautifully performed mini-play.
The sheer variety of writing and themes on offer means that you run through a whole gamut of emotions.
The aptly titled HOME by Ian Kershaw is a gem. It concerns the experiences of a local Big Issue vendor and how he likes to pay forward all the kindness he receives.
If you’re a regular on First Street, you soon realise this is the story of Colin, the Big Issue vendor who moved from his usual spot at the Cornerhouse to HOME.
It’s wonderful to see his story on stage. This warm-hearted and friendly guy will happily autograph a copy of his mag for you afterwards, I’m sure. Andy Sheridan performs the role with sincerity and humility.
Eve Steele’s Strangeways features a mum visiting her son inside. But he is the one with the social conscience and she is not all she seems. It is a quite a feat to pack in so much drama in such a short time frame, but Steele achieves that with ease.
I also enjoyed Chanje Kunda’s Crumpsall and Chris Hoyle’s Middleton, as both pieces take traditional Christmas settings and flip them with great humour and recall the quick wit of Coronation Street writer and novelist Jonathan Harvey.
And in both, Zoe Iqbal shows she is an absolute natural at comedy. And give her a monologue as sharp and wonderfully witty as Punam Ramchurn’s Cheetham Hill and she excels, interacting with the audience and giving them plenty of belly laughs.
Chris Thorpe’s Chorlton is a mini-masterpiece, exploring grief and memory with real depth and in a way that many full-blown plays could not achieve. The dynamic double act of Andy Sheridan and Sarah McDonald Hughes (standing in for Samantha Siddall who is sadly unwell) means that you witness an inner pain and heartache that you completely recognise.
Curtis Cole’s Moss Side tackles Brexit with such simplicity and heart that it should be available on prescription. Reuben Johnson is superb at shedding his character’s Manc masculinity in order to accommodate a friendly newcomer, inviting him to his home to watch Tipping Point!
With it being Christmas, Wythenshawe tackles the topic of birth and new beginnings as an expectant mum faces the reality in front of her. Cynthia Emeagi excels here, bringing a knowing yet innocent feel to her character, helped by Sarah McDonald Hughes’ earthy writing and terrific turn as a humble midwife.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that can make Christmas special. Just ask any kid who receives a generous gift from Manchester folks via the Wood Street Mission.
Furquan Akhtar’s Old Trafford is a beautiful piece of theatre, delivered with a delicate touch by Ackley Bridge star Gurjeet Singh, as he recalls the magic of Christmas as opposed to the commercialism.
Sarah McDonald Hughes fills in at very short notice and is quite remarkable as she performs each role as if she has known it for months. The script is in hand but most of it is stored, ready to emote.
To hear such authentic voices on stage is a real treat and you recognise so many of these characters from your community, pubs, buses and workplaces.
The writing throughout is rich and filled with insight and symmetry, as each story is connected by this glorious city. It feels like getting on the Met and randomly getting off and eavesdropping on conversations, over a cup of builder’s tea.
There’s so much good material here that at times you feel as if you are moving on to the next one too quickly. But the concept is to showcase as many local writers in a short time frame. And when you come back after the interval, there’s a comedy show or a drag act, depending on the night you go.
The Manchester Project at Christmas is one present you that you will enjoy unwrapping and proves that, for showcasing local talent, there really is no place like HOME.
HOME until Saturday 21st December 2019.