The Empty Space, Media City, Salford; Friday 23rd October, 2020
Manchester, 1987: the epicentre of being on the edge of greatness. Something is happening, something big. A revolution is in full swing, an unstoppable and irresistible movement is sweeping up the city’s youth.
Music. Drugs. Sex.
“This is the story of how I became a fucking legend.”
Ollie (James Willett) has just turned 18 and is completely and utterly consumed by the hype. His parents want him to do something useful with his life, anything will do, just do something?
But Ollie shrugs them off, his only focus is a first-class upgrade from the likes of the Tommy Ducks straight up to the lofty nirvana of the entire scene: The Hacienda nightclub itself.
When Ollie’s out (out) the hype is definitely real, it comes roaring off the stage thanks to an outstanding soundtrack. These are more than just the songs of the era, each piece absolutely defines the prevailing ethos and spirit of the time.
When Ollie’s out dancing his wide-eyed smiles says it all : I Feel Love.
When Ollie’s fending off his parents the message is clear: I Want To Break Free.
And when Ollie finally makes it he knows what he’s achieved: he’s in the Promised Land.
Music is a huge part of Back To Ours and it delivers much more than just a high-quality playlist from the era concerned. A lot of work seems to have gone into choosing an aptly-titled / themed song for each scene in the steadily proceeding plot.
On stage the set switches tantalisingly between the family’s home environment and the hazy noise of a nightclub in full swing. There are some amusing and well-considered visual touches: Kwik Save carrier bags; Smash Hits posters on the bedroom walls; and cringe-inducing 1980s fashion disasters that are all absolutely spot on.
Ollie and his friends are well and truly mad for it, from an audience point of view it’s hard not to get caught up in their hysteria. But on stage his parents are trying. Theatrically, the scenes in the family home feel like an annoying interruption to what are otherwise seriously good times.
Father Barry (John Jones) is hopelessly out of touch, a villainous character who seems to offer nothing beneficial at all to his son’s life and development. Mother Linda (Victoria Connolly) exudes an off-putting persona of helpless desperation as she timidly cowers in her husband’s shadow.
It’s not until the end of the show that these seemingly bleak familial interactions come back to hit hard.
Ollie’s parents are a polar-opposite extreme to the mad, swaggering mania of Manc youth back in the day. They are simple and boring; a banal, working-class elderly couple, hopelessly out of touch with the times. Or are they in fact the only viable restraint that can prevent disaster from befalling Ollie?
Back To Ours spins up a universally relatable mood: it captures the gleeful moments of early maturity; the adventurous spirit of youth searching for that next step, taking that big leap from childhood to adulthood.
It does more than capture a snapshot though: it drags the audience along as Ollie suddenly accelerates forward into adult life – particularly the key reasonings that compel him to ditch the safety of his parents’ way of life, the powerful, conspiratorial urges that lead him to leave them behind as negative forces who are never, ever going to change.
Back To Ours culminates in a shockingly hard-hitting ending. The audience travels at a high tempo through Ollie’s blooming transformation into personal greatness, so the resolution of his story feels so very precipitous and sudden. There are some incredibly powerful scenes in the approach to the finale, these are unexpected and shocking.
What remains then is a ponderous, lingering thought: can you ever truly have it, Mancunian style, like so many say they did in the late 1980s? Did anyone really, truly live the dream? Or will there always be a price to pay in the search for happiness?
Photography: Adil Ladha