The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester; Thursday 27th February, 2020
The year is 2020, the place is Manchester – but this is nothing like the Manchester of 2020 as we currently know it.
The Party For the People has taken power and society is split: there are those who conform and dictate; and those who have no choice but to rise up and break free – no matter what the cost.
This is a truly hellish nightmare: the genuine 24-hour party peoples of Manchester have been suppressed and oppressed by a set of establishment cranks who have rubbed salt in the wound by literally naming themselves “The Party For the People”.
The youth of the city are in full rebellion. The Party has issued punitive bans on anything that could break its strangle-hold on convention. There can be no art, there can be no music, all forms of artistic expression are illegal.
Some of the Rebels speak fondly of uninhibited expressionists such as Bowie and Tears For Fears, a few even seem to be willing to risk arrest just by being in possession of a secret stash of vinyl records.
We Won’t Fall paints a disturbing vision of an uncomfortable dystopia – but this soulless society is firmly placed in the here and now, this is not portrayed as some ghastly predicament that awaits in an undesirable future. As such this show raises an interesting and clever question: could we already be recklessly wallowing in a skewed society that unreasonably promotes certain conventions and paradigms over others?
The mood of rebellion is set even before the show formally begins. The cast is large (a dozen performers) and wanders freely before the show: mingling, dancing, chatting, listening to music. They show the audience to their seats, one even asks: “Did you take part in the protest?”
The performance is set in a secretive bar which clearly serves as a post-protest congregation point for the Rebels. Drinks are served, music is (illegally) played, and every now and again hushed secrets are whispered softly.
Over the space of 90 minutes, the various characters introduce their very personal motives for being so deeply involved in the anti-conformist insurgency. Each character is rising up against unjust oppression – oppression against sexuality, against race; against gender; oppression against anyone who simply doesn’t conform to the rules of The Party and its strict definition of normality.
The brutal vision presented by We Won’t Fall seems to be strongly Orwellian – not just 1984 and the concept of a nefarious, Big-Brotherly authoritarianism but also Animal Farm thanks to the complex and intriguing manner in which various Rebels lock horns with each other on more than one occasion.
The acting performances are superb, each performer seizing the limelight when given the chance. Huge theatrical energy goes into some of the stories being told, aided skilfully by excellent lighting effects and a highly evocative musical accompaniment.
We Won’t Fall has a soap-opera feel to it: multiple, short scenes of high drama, a sense that the audience can tune in at any moment and pick up the general gist of what’s happening. And just like a soap opera the characters and stories are very much connected, this time by a collective need for everyone to reassure each other that they’re doing the right thing.
This gentle, soap-opera-like fusing of scenes works well, it prevents the show from being a linear succession of vignettes with only a tenuous narrative to link them. In fact, each story feels as though it is ready to be explored and developed even further.
With a pleasing mix of comedy layered onto an otherwise rather distressing background of unpleasantness, We Won’t Fall seems to be describing a truly awful Manchester in the year 2020. A Manchester that’s almost intolerable. It will never get like that, will it? Or, are we actually already pushing the pro-conformist agenda right now, without even realising it?
|Visual pleasure||Delivered in the round with the audience encircling the performance area. Excellent lighting effects ensured that focus was switched emphatically to wherever it needed to be. Didn’t quite generate a visual sense of sinister terror as the story suggests.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Excellent use of music to link the scenes and punctuate the key points of the show, a pleasing mix of established classics and some new composition.||4|
|Architecture & Theme||A great concept and very clever in how it is set in the present, suggesting perhaps that those who don’t/can’t conform to society might feel heavily oppressed by the establishment. The ending seemed a little tame and lacking in dramatic flair, the whole show seemed to be building up nicely to something very big but that never actually arrived.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Excellent acting performances from a large cast, some of whom often only had a few minutes to make their mark.||4|
|Overall impact||A great show which has been cleverly written and directed. Felt a tiny bit preachy when emphasising the themes of oppression but still an impressive piece of innovative theatre that works really well.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|