Dirty Old Town

The Greater Manchester Police Museum; Monday 20th September, 2021

I have seen every shape and size of conniving reprobate this city has to show me.

Or have I ….?

Inspector Jerome Caminada was a real life policing legend who kept law and order on the streets of central Manchester during the closing decades of the 1800s.

Literally born on Deansgate to Irish-Italian parentage, Caminada was 100% Manc, through and through. Such was his reputation, he became a nationwide, Victorian-age celebrity; with some even suggesting that he may have been the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

On stage, Eddie Capli in the lead role does a fine job of bringing this mysterious legend to life. Caminada is burly, stout in figure, bearded; his stance is solid, shoulders broad – this is certainly the debonair countenance of a gentleman police officer.

But Capli provides more than just a sturdy physical appearance, his Caminada wields a sharp and dexterous tongue, a lightning-fast wit – it could possibly be his most potent weapon, potentially capable of more effectively quelling grievous threats than the actual gun in his hand.

Caminada is also very clearly a man of great compassion, more than just a Hollywood-style enforcer. Throughout the show there is a strong sense that he has truly got to the bottom of it all, recognising that the violence and misdemeanour around him are merely representative symptoms of underlying inequality and injustice at a far grander level.

Dirty Old Town is a series of interwoven stories, each being an individual showcase where Caminada variously interacts with outlandish (and often unlikely) personifications of the Manchester criminal underworld.

Opposite Capli on stage is Ryan Mulvey, who has the unenviable task of playing every other role to Capli’s Caminada. It doesn’t take long to acknowledge that this is a huge performance challenge, and to be fair it is one that Mulvey does eventually succeed in – although the opening stages seem slightly hazy and difficult to follow, perhaps due to the inevitable lack of character development at that early point.

As a result, this is a theatrical experience which leaps irregularly between multiple narratives, with Caminada being the only common link. It has the look and feel of an end-of-season highlights compilation. Coming away from it there is a strange and subtle notion that we “remember” each of these episodes, even though all that has passed is new and unfamiliar.

Dirty Old Town has the look and feel of Peaky Blinders in reverse, here focus is on the side of law and order orbiting around what appears to be a fantastically strong character at the centre of it.

This show, which has made its debut in the satisfying backdrop of the Greater Manchester Police Museum, seems to have all the right ingredients to potentially go on to become a full series, either on screen or stage, or perhaps even both. Why not?


Photography: Shay Rowan

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