Sunday, September 24

Better Days – The Carlton Club

You don’t have to go far in Manchester to find a now grey haired 50 something who will become positively wistful should you mention words like Hacienda, doves and rave. They will enthusiastically monologue about the greatest years of their lives and the camaraderie they experienced amongst their peers. I have been guilty of this myself on occasion.

Ben Tagoe’s poetic story tells of 19-year-old Danny’s journey from the violent football terraces of the late 1980’s to the euphoric dancefloors of the early 90’s. The piece makes a seamless transference from the pleasure felt from the ‘threat of beautiful violence’ within the subculture of football hooliganism to the absolute joy experienced within the subculture of an emerging ecstasy fuelled rave scene.

Leaving his terraced home, clad in Ellesse, Lacoste and Tacchini, Danny finds home on the terraces of his beloved local team. The passion, the chanting, the ‘burst of adrenaline when fist cracks bone’ gives him his first experience of belonging to a tribe and he loves it. ‘Football, fighting, lasses and music’ is the mantra he lives by until his best mate Miggy introduces him to the emerging Acid house scene and life changes forever.

Performing to a receptive and enthusiastic crowd at tonight’s sold out Carlton Club, Yorkshire actor George Martin grabbed us by the throat from the moment he walked onto the stage and missed not one beat during his hour long monologue of highs, lows, more highs and everything in between. If this, his professional debut is anything to go by, this talented young actor has a very bright future to look forward to. The combination of this impressive acting talent and the truly excellent writing of Tagoe resulted in a crowd connecting so deeply with this authentic and engaging material that you simply couldn’t hide from re-living your own experiences of the time. Nodding sagely to the tunes of Frankie Knuckles, The Stone Roses, A Guy called Gerald, Guru Josh, 808 State, savouring the mixes of DJ Sacha, Graeme Park and Andy Wetherall, there were moments when you felt that like Danny, you were coming up on an E and ready to rave. Tagoe’s description and Martin’s delivery of Danny’s first MDMA experience was both powerful and beautiful in its understanding. The combination of rhythm, rhyme, sharp humour and soul-touching tunes was utterly intoxicating.

Danny’s life within the rave scene of the early nineties, accompanied by best mate Miggy and with his ’angel, goddess’ girlfriend Caroline, tells of their journey on the merry go round of 3-day weekend raving, start the week comedowns and mid-week build up to the next round of clubbing, pilling, dancing, partying and chill out dawns accompanied by the likes of Future Sound of London. There is revolution, there is joy and hope, there is love and peace as the chemical generation find their voice, their whistles and their place in cultural history. To many of us it is a familiar story, we were more than pleased to be vividly reacquainted with all of it, even the disastrous bad pill experience when paranoia, doom and panic attack strike hard.

When you have a combination of high quality writing, performance and music you cannot fail to hit the jackpot and this piece of theatre, set with a combination of cabaret style seating and gig like standing, hits it with precision.  The post performance Q&A with Rowetta and Ben Tagoe was certainly worth staying for and tomorrow’s audience have the promise of a Q&A led by John Da Silva. With tickets still available, if you can get there, I urge you to make the effort.

Reviewer: Lou Kershaw

Reviewed: 1st March 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★