28 May 2011

Manchastic! Er...Manchesterrific? (Part II)

Day Two of my Manchester visit took us to the Victoria Baths, a beautiful disused bathhouse near Nija's place:

Therein we expected to find a 'zine fair'. 'Zines' (zeens) if you don't know, are basically small-run, independently-produced, often hand-made booklets or magazines, usually focusing on art, poetry, short stories, music, subcultures involving those things, or just weirdness. It's actually a really hard-to-describe concept, now that I think about it. It boggles the mind how many of these things must have been put out over the years around the world. Actually, the fact that they're called something in particular, and not just 'books' or 'magazines', says something about modern publishing. As usual, the Wikipedia entry is worth looking at. I could probably drone on and on about them, but that's not the point here.

Point is, we went in and found that the fair was part of the FutureEverything festival's 'Handmade' event and included some installation 'kinetic art' pieces called Physical Oscillators by Antony Hall:


There were zines indeed, and vegan baked goods, and weird arts/crafts/science projects, and so on. Nija found out about a community laser milling outfit that will cut all kinds of stuff out of plastic, metal etc for you if you give them a design, I presume for free or very little dough, much like Sydney's Rizzeria is meant to do for people needing high-quality colour printing. (PS: Check out news about the MCA Zine Fair in Sydney this past weekend on the Rizzeria wesbite. What the weird?! Must be that time of year.)

That evening we had a hot date with Nija's friends Michael and Bernadette, who live in the lovely little Tameside town of Mossley, a 20-minute trainride to the Northeast of Manchester. We headed up to Victoria Station to get a train but just missed ours and had an hour to kill. Victoria is a fine old place, with a classic look (see yesterday's post) and a great tile mural near the entrance:

Something about those lists of sea destinations to the east just takes my breath away.

So with our spare hour Nija and I decided to tuck into our first pints of the day at the station pub. Fortunately they also served nachos, which Nija prescribed to me as part of my 'fattening-up' diet. Now let me tell you something: I've never eaten nachos in a train station before, and I did that day. And they were not the best nachos ever, but they were also not the worst. And there I shall leave it.

The plate of nachos almost cleaned entirely, we got our train, which was full and wound up getting hung at some point along the journey due to a failed train up ahead. It was amazing how nearly everyone on our car went to sleep as a response. Nija dozed off, I fought bravely but probably had a wink, and all those around us just lapsed into comas as though the train were filling with its own exhaust. We got moving again, but the trip to Mossley took us twice what it should have, I'm told.

The purpose of our journey was that we had tickets to a Mossley theatre company's production of Acorn Antiques, Victoria Wood's soap-opera spoof about a small-town ('Manchesterford') antiques shop and the grotesque caricature-people involved with the place. The play is based on a regular segment of her 80s TV series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, but it's a musical. The main characters are there, but the play features all mod cons, such as mobile phones.

After a pleasant visit to Michael and Bernadette's place and some excellent homemade pizza and salad, we walked up to 'Top Mossley' for the show. This just happened to be the final show of the run, and so the community centre was packed. We were all worked up, looking forward to a classic small-town theatre production, as you do. We wanted crappy sets, flubbed lines, dazed performers. Something to chortle over when we got home, don't you know. The schadenfreude of the city-dweller.

And we were resoundingly disappointed.

The sets were very competently-built and didn't collapse once. The lead actors were probably all professionals. Even the obviously non-professional cast members were good. The orchestra was top-notch, and the singing and dancing were quite fine (especially the surprise group tap-dance number). Worst of all, it was hilarious. And I mean the kind of hilarious that you're allowed to laugh at!

We were told we wouldn't get most of it, not being from Britain, but I think we actually cottoned on to quite a bit of it. Broad, crude humour seems to easily surmount whatever national boundary it encounters. It was especially gratifying to see all the old folks guffawing at the jokes about sex and bowel movements. Fantastic! And some of the utterly ridiculous plot elements were just undeniably charming and smart. One character has a cellphone that he says will play 'Daisy, Daisy' if it's his mum's nursing home calling to say she's passed on. Sure enough, it does.

Actually, it seems the play captured the old show's brilliant irreverence really well. Check out this episode from 1990:

It makes me realise that all the professionalism might have actually been completely misplaced. Perhaps what we saw was actually a bad show after all! Note the deliberateness with which Acorn Antiques was meant to look like a low-budget soap opera. In this episode the exterior fly is waving around in the breeze, the actors flub and miss their blocking and cues, the boom mics and cameras dangle into the shot, and Julie Walters almost walks into the audience. Like I said, in Mossley, no one screwed up, the sets were perfect, and everything went off without a hitch!

Silly small-town people.

Next time: the Lakes!

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