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Rising Up Peterloo – HOME, Manchester: Live Review

Rising Up Peterloo is billed as Modern Folk Theatre. Debs Newbold and Sean Cooney (The Young’Uns) have created something visceral and affecting in a minimal way.

For those expecting a straight retelling of the story of Peterloo, you’d be disappointed. A selection of songs tell the story of Peterloo, but also tell the modern stories of today’s activists and the highlight problems facing today’s society.

Songs and images of Greta Thunberg, Lyra McKee and Nusrat Jahan Rafi all showcase the plight of modern-day women fighting for what’s right and sadly losing their lives in the course of their beliefs.

The heroes and villains of the Peterloo Massacre are brought to life in song. There is sadness, grief, anger, loss and above all, hope. Hope is the key message throughout.

A folk band made up of Lucy Farrell, Jim Molyneux and Sam Carter play the songs as Helen O’Hara and Joanna Holden excellently portray characters from different eras of history.

The narrative of the performance traverses between the modern-day and that fateful sunny day in August 1819. Parallels gradually become clear in the narrative; in some ways, everything has changed…in other ways, things have stayed the same. Oppression is still rife. Violence is still rife. The delicate subject matter is delivered with a wry wit in parts, whilst also being self-deprecating and tender. There is a swelling of various emotions throughout.

Sean Cooney has an unparalleled ability to put you in a time and place with his lyrics; they cast a spell that put you in a trance that conjure images that are sadly, so easily constructed in the mind. His well researched words are challenging and thought provoking. The song relating to Greta Thunberg has a vocally repetitive line about her ‘pigtails’ that you could envisage Richard Thompson delivering with venom.

Stark juxtaposition of the intertwining stories from different eras and how the downtrodden are treated by people in positions of power is sobering. The old style lexicon against the explicit millennial expressions show how times have changed but many of the struggles are the same.

Both leading ladies, Joanna Holden and Helen O’Hara, deliver their performances with brawny authority. Joanna Holden’s Peterloo witness is charming but melancholy, whereas Helen O’Hara’s brash victim is funny but oh so serious as she tells her story from the female WC with her phone in her hand.

With a closing gambit of ‘without hope, everything stops,’ it’s clear that Rising Up Peterloo is more than just a story of a social protest. It is social protest, and another step in trying to make people more aware of the everyday struggles of the downtrodden, how the little people can scare the big people, how some people feel they are completely entitled to everything they lay their hands on and how we can pull on our anger to let a river of change flow.

Rising Up Peterloo is a well thought out show that has a devastating story. Each and every member of this cast and crew has helped create a piece of theatre that needs to be seen and heard.

Get up…rise. Go on…rise up. Without hope…everything stops.

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Find out more about Rising Up Peterloo at the Official Website.

Photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s work on the At The Barrier Facebook page.

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