Census, set in North Manchester, is a commendable theatrical endeavour that aims to break stereotypes, shining a light on a community’s spirit through personal interviews and historical narratives. Located in a rapidly evolving working-class area of Manchester, this unique project is both ambitious and captivating.
The evening is orchestrated by Malandra Jacks, with Chloe and Josh from Moston taking the lead. The show kicks off with a bus journey from Manchester City Centre to Moston. As they pass Harpurhey market, it’s evident that the place is brimming with characters, and there’s a distinct emphasis that there’s only one way to pronounce “Harpurhey”. This bus journey segment, while filled with humour, felt like a play for laughs. With a local audience that seemed to relate to every joke, it resonated well. However, I would question if this would land as effectively with a ‘fresh’ audience unfamiliar with the nuances and local references.
What sets Census apart is its unconventional approach to theatre. It’s not a straightforward piece but rather a quirky exploration of North Manchester’s contrasts. The production contains pieces of verbatim, making it feel like Josh and Chloe are presenting back their findings in a unique way.
The “working-class bingo” game was a standout moment, setting a lively tone for the evening and engaging the audience. The excitement was palpable. However, its placement in the performance felt a bit like the fun interlude in a school day, where after a brief moment of enjoyment, one has to return to the more structured learning environment.
A central theme of the production is the stark contrast between Moston and Manchester City Centre, despite being just 3 miles apart. The disparity in wealth and deprivation experienced in Moston is profound. This was highlighted with statistics projected onto the set, showing that over 50% of Moston residents were in receipt of working credits, compared to less than 10% in other areas of Manchester. However, there were moments when I struggled to read the projections, as certain set items obstructed my view.
While Census is undeniably compelling, some segments are drawn out and don’t offer the audience much new information. The historical context, for instance, could be more concise to captivate its audience.
The performance emphasises the disparities experienced by Moston residents, overshadowing the commendable efforts of its community members. The topic of gentrification is also adeptly addressed. Through insightful interviews with locals, youth workers, and community group founders, the transformative power of community initiatives is evident.
Malandra Jacks’ meticulous selection of interview footage, enhanced by visually appealing graphics, adds depth to the narrative. The presentation, while aiming to be interactive and personal, adds a unique charm to the performance.
In conclusion, Census offers a poignant, albeit slightly imperfect, glimpse into the contrasts of North Manchester. It’s showcased at Contact until 16th September, and it’s certainly worth a visit.
Reviewer: Brian Madden
Reviewed: 13th September 2023
North West End UK Rating: