It seems an age ago but, on Thursday 12th March this year, I went to see Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at NWTAC’s theatre on Lightbowne Road. Not for the first time, they took me by surprise.
I was late, distracted by news of the spreading virus, so I grabbed a drink at the bar and went to find my seat; through the doors and stopped – the entire auditorium was completely different.
Gone were the tiered rows of seats. The ‘stage’ was positioned in the centre rather than at the far end of the building. Seating was arranged around the edges, creating a true ‘theatre-in-the-round’.
The usher led me to a ring-side spot that put me inches from the performers, who were taking their positions. When the lights went down I could pick out the faces of my fellow audience and catch their expressions.
From start to finish there were clever connections to Manchester. Reflecting on the similarity between our own Piccadilly Gardens and the court of Athens, where Shakespeare opens his play. Queen Titania’s ‘cohort of fairies’ were portrayed as our famous worker bees.
They buzzed through their performance and I was mesmerised.
As ever, the acting was superb. The young performers slipped into character with ease and professionalism; engaging the audience, drawing them in. And, as the play unfolded, the stage was transformed into flower-covered woodland in front of our eyes as if by magic.
Two hours flew by. Before we knew it, we were leaving the theatre into the chilly night air. We left the dreamy world created by Prab Singh’s team behind us. Lockdown began just days later and, against all expectation, dragged on for months.
NWTAC has 10 years’ experience of adapting to change. It’s made them resilient. Their doors were closed but not all the ‘lights’ went out. Almost straight away they launched a series of on-line activities; fitness sessions with choreographer Katie Gough called ‘Dance Along with NWTAC’. Musical Director, Beth Singh, began ‘Story Time with Beth’ reading out Roald Dahl books. And on Friday evenings she ‘wowed’ us with her ‘Lockdown Live’ concerts.Rehearsals continued remotely for the theatre’s students using the on-line meeting platform, Zoom. The empty theatre was re-painted and steam cleaned in readiness.
In August, term-time resumed in line with government guidelines and a month later NWTAC re-opened its doors to the public to perform Factory Fest, a show originally scheduled for May…and I had a ticket!
Once more I arrived to find a transformed auditorium, only this time to make it Covid secure. Socially distanced tables had replaced the tiered seating, with waiter service only taking orders from the bar. Temperatures were checked prior to entry and all the doors were open so you could go straight to your allotted table without touching a thing. Masks were mandatory. Even the performers kept within their peer groups to avoid mixing.
Factory Fest was a full on indoor festival concert, a dizzying compilation of hits and routines, all brilliantly performed. Harmonies, choreography, variety, comedy. New students performed for the first time alongside the more experienced and together they knocked our socks off. Lockdown and six grim months had gone by but it was worth the wait; for the second time this year all thoughts of Coronavirus were left behind.
So many industries have been hit hard in recent months, performing arts is just one of them. We need it though, now more than ever and it needs us.NWTAC are continuing to work on projects including ‘The Sound and Soul of Hitsville Mowtown’ to be staged in November and the pantomime ‘Puss in Boots’ throughout December. This weekend, for two nights only on 16th and 17th October, Beth Singh will perform live at the theatre.
Keep an eye on social media for updates and, if you missed them first time around, you can still access Dance Along, Story Time and Lockdown live through NTWAC’s Facebook page.
Tickets for this weekend and future shows can be booked by calling the box office on 0161 207 1617.