Last Saturday I had the great pleasure of witnessing the final showing of ‘When Both Sides Surrender’, a locally produced Arts Council funded drama performed at 53two – Manchester’s newest and most promising independent arts venue.
On the night, I was unsure what to expect as I had never really gone to watch a play before, but I was absolutely blown away by the themes that the play explored and the effort and thought that had been put into the script and performance.
‘When Both Sides Surrender’ bravely dramatises the 2011 England riots, which began after the fateful shooting of Mark Duggan by Metropolitan Police officers in North London. It led to people taking to the streets as an opportunity to vent their frustration against the failings of government through civil disturbances. This pitted angry youth against unprepared police in a complex battle for the control of narrative, order and virtues.
The play represents just that, a standoff between two supposedly opposing factions and a struggle between law & order vs anarchy, good vs evil. It makes you question and rethink even things such as what is considered right and wrong.
‘When Both Sides Surrender’ is a story of tragedy, power and morality. It consists of a gang of boisterous, hungry youths in the midst of the Salford riots, in search for retribution and respect amongst chaos. Also there is a unit of police officers, held to be self-proclaimed guardians of the peace but this is not so clear cut, made so by them each having their own views on how to resolve the ongoing unrest.
What makes the performance so extraordinarily unique and incredible is the use of Shakespearean language and themes throughout, which manages to provide a whole new scope of meaning and interpretation of who rioted and why? It chimes with Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, being that it mesmerisingly blends Elizabethan style acting with the tribulations and surreality of modern life in England. The conviction of the senior police officer and the way he described the fate of Salford’s streets like it was the last days of Rome shows the levels of thought and ingenuity that went into the play.
The cast consisted of upcoming and established Northern actors. You could feel the energy and emotion come through from each and every performer as tears were seen being stubbornly wiped away from faces on the front row and in certain scenes you honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!
Andrew Readman was truly fantastic as the senior police officer, his powerful monologues hit home the message of the play – but you cannot take anything from such a bright and energetic cast. It really was clear to see how much fun they must’ve had working together under Director Lawrence Evans. I’m certain some of them will go far in the near future! Post-performance I had the great pleasure of meeting the Lawrence Evans and Writer Scott Devon and was taken aback by how much the play meant to them, both as art and as an important piece of social commentary.
The venue itself 53two was such a perfect fit for the performance. I didn’t think such a place existed in Manchester before Saturday night and ‘When Both Sides Surrender’ was in fact the first (and we hope of many) feature length plays to be shown there.
Situated under railway arches within a compound opposite the Bridgewater Hall in town, it really is a gem with such a bright future ahead of it. Owner (and would you believe Actor in the performance) Simon Naylor opened the venue not long back after beating big dog offers from property investment companies (a rare victory for the arts it seems these days) to open what promises to be one of the best independent arts venue in Manchester with the right amount of exposure and support.
With a cosy lounge area, fully equipped bar and quaint decor (quite surreal in essence when you’ve trudged through a dark and dingy car park to get to the entrance) the main venue room complemented the performance. You really feel that you are in the thick of the drama itself. What amazed me was a scene where the rioters became aware that the police were on the move in the distance and then a tram slowly rumbled overhead (imitating the sounds of a rumbling advancing army). Ominous, transient sounds of the city such as this fitted perfectly with the sombreness of the performance and actually sent shivers down my spine on the occasions it occurred.
The events that took place in cities up and down the land during August 2011 may be fresher in some minds more than others. As for me, I was a naive 19 year old Police Officer at the time, not wanting to understand why lads the same age, colour and class as me felt the need to throw bricks at ‘us’ and carry out wanton acts of violence against ‘their’ own neighbourhoods.
Even language such as ‘us’ and their’ infiltrates your vocabulary subconsciously, which the performance tries to break down. The press, government and the courts helped me and most of England come to a conclusion on the reasons behind why my fellow citizens took to the streets in anger against a system that had failed them. As Writer Scott Devon said to me at the bar after the performance – there are no winners or losers, just in the same way it’s difficult to say what is right and what is wrong.
The play should make anyone rethink why the civil unrest in Manchester & Salford happened, why was it brushed under the carpet so easily when we were made out to feel so unalike? My biggest disappointment regarding ‘When Both Sides Surrender’ is that I only got to see it on its last night. A truly striking performance that led me on a long walk into the freezing cold night afterwards thinking about what I had just witnessed. Bravo Manchester.