Office block to be stage for new play ‘Manchester Lines’ by Library Theatre Company

By David Keyworth

A Manchester office is to be used as the stage for a new play centred on lost property by an award-winning writer, which opens this week.

Manchester Lines is the latest production from Manchester Library Theatre Company.

The play is about characters who call in at a lost property office and, in so doing, reveal the stories of their lives. It is by Jackie Kay MBE, who has previously written, amongst other subjects, about being an adopted child.

Site-specific specialist Wils Wilson is directing Manchester Lines. Neither she or Jackie Kay aim to evoke nostalgia. Wils said: “We wanted the play to be about Manchester as it is now. A place where lots of people come and go and journeys begin and end.”

The original plan was to perform the play at the city’s Victoria Station. However, Wils fell in love with the view at Number One First Street. She pointed out that, from the Fifth Floor, it is possible to see the trams, trains, roads and pedestrians, which reveal the ‘lines of Manchester’.

John Branwell plays Eugene, the 50-something manager of the lost property office. John thinks that Eugene’s wisdom qualifies him to be a Mancunian version of Shakespeare’s Prospero.

John said: “Eugene is a genuinely good person and you don’t get to play those often.”

One of Eugene’s repeat callers is Omar, who loses umbrellas just so that he can reclaim them. Omar, played by Tachia Newall, is a Jamaican who has lost contact with his parents. Tachia said: “I didn’t know my Dad so that was a massive link to the character for me.”

Manchester Lines features a specially assembled community choir. The music, written by Errollyn Wallen MBE, includes songs performed by the actors.

Tachia added: “When I found out about the songs I thought, ‘this is going to be fun’.”

Wils has previously worked with Jackie Kay on a piece set on the Lerwick to Aberdeen ferry. Speaking about why she likes taking plays out of their traditional setting, Wils said: “People don’t know what expectations to have and take a gamble with their emotions.”

There will only be space for around 100 audience members at each performance of Manchester Lines. They will sit on stools, wooden chairs and trunks. Mobile Phones, board games, cuddly toys and even a stuffed fox are amongst the scenery.

Transport for London (TfL) donated some old lost property for the set. When the play is finished, the items will be given to the Salvation Army in Eccles.

Last year, Manchester Library Theatre Company staged its first site-specific production – a version of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times. It was performed in a former Ancoats mill.

The theatre company was originally based at Central Library. Its current home is at the Lowry, Salford Quays. In 2014 the company will move, with the Cornerhouse arts centre, in to a purpose-built venue on First Street.

Jackie Kay’s 1991 poetry collection The Adoption Papers won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award. Her memoir Red Dust Road won last year’s Scottish Book of the Year award. Characters in Manchester Lines include a Mother and the daughter she gave up for adoption.

Speaking on Manchester Library Theatre’s website about her new play, Jackie Kay said: “It’s a quest to say what makes us who we are and, when we get lost, how do we re-find ourselves.”

Manchester Lines runs June 12 – July 7 2012.

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