Amateur and professional actors take to Manchester stage in Charles Dickens play

By David Keyworth

Rehearsals are underway for the dramatization of a Charles Dickens’ novel which will be performed in an Ancoats Mill this summer, with non-professional actors appearing alongside professionals.

Manchester’s Library Theatre Company, currently based at the Lowry, Salford Quays, received an ‘overwhelming response’ when it sent out the call for budding non-professional actors to audition for the cast of Hard Times.

The audience will follow the promenade performance through Murrays’ Mills. The Community Company of actors will play the chorus, circus performers or factory workers. One member of the company worked at the mills when they were still spinning cotton.

The theatre’s Communication Manager, Mike Barnett, told us that Hard Times would a professional production. But he added: “The non-professional actors will be a vital part of the production.”

Chris Honer will be directing the play.  Speaking about what the audience could expect he said:  “A compelling journey through damaged childhoods, overbearing businessmen, circus wonders, forbidden romance, industrial strife, a bank robbery, and redemptive love.”

Hard Times tells the story of Thomas Gradgrind, who is the guiding luminary of the Coketown school.  Gradgrind’s stern Philosophy of Fact and the hardship of factory life contrasts with the escapism offered by Sleary’s circus.

Speaking about what he was most looking forward to, Mr Honer said: “To make the world of Coketown come alive and to immerse the audience in the experience.”

Murrays’ Mills was founded at the end of the 18th century. It comprised two separate cotton-spinning mills. At its height it employed over a 1,000 workers.  The mills fell into decay when their commercial value declined.

Mr Honer, who is also the Library Theatre’s Artistic Director, said that his first job was to make sure Murrays’ Mills is fit and safe for the audience.

“Then to ensure we take full advantage of the atmosphere the building gives us, and present the action so that the audience can clearly follow the narrative,” he added.

Mr Barnett explained that, depending on which history book you read, Dickens based Hard Times on either Manchester or Preston.

He also pointed out that Dickens, more normally associated with London, was a frequent visitor to Manchester and spoke at Athenaeum meetings alongside reformers and notables such as Benjamin Disraeli.

Speaking about Murrays’ Mill, Mr Barnett told us that the venue could not be more appropriate. “We’ve wanted to do something like this for quite a time,” he added.

It will be the Library Theatre’s first site-specific production since moving out of the basement of Manchester Central Library whilst it is being refurbished.

Hard Times has been adapted for performance by Charles Way. Colin Sell, of Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue fame, has been commissioned to write original music.

There is likely to be a high demand for tickets as there is only space for 80 audience members at each performance.

The performances will take place in Murrays’ Mills between 8th June and 2nd July.

Box Office: 0843 208 0500

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