Scuttlers – Review – Wakefield Theatre Royal
Scuttlers – Review
Wakefield Theatre Royal, June 2017
by Steve Crabtree – stevecrab
I’m a big fan of the Theatre Royal in Wakefield. It’s a well looked after, traditional theatre, with members of staff who just enhance your visit by being lovely. I’ve never been to see one of their own theatre company productions though, and tonight ‘In On The Act’ are treating us to the first of a two night performance of Scuttlers.
Created by Rona Munro it’s a story about two rival street gangs in Ancoats, Manchester in the 19th Century. It’s inspired from the real-life criminal groups generically known as the ‘scuttlers’.
It’s about 15 minutes to show-time and the cast are milling around each other on stage, and within the stalls. They’re an unhappy lot as they lock eyes with each other, exchanging glances and grimaces, and the mood is low. Tense and low. And as I walk to my seat, a girl confronts me and doesn’t say a word. She flicks me a menacing stare, and I feel I’m not welcome. I’m on her territory, and I’m not welcome.
And so the play begins.
“Subtle, choreographed movements”
The Tigers from Bengal Street loathe and despise their rivals, the Prussia Street Gang. There’s no love lost between either community, and both are determined to get the better of each other. The play centres around Theresa, played superbly by Lauren Liddle, from Bengal Street. She’s barely more than a child herself, but she’s the ‘mother tiger’ who takes in and provides for other young women, including the needy Margaret (Erica Taylor) and young Polly (Claire Leng), the Tiger cub and mascot who wants to be one of the boys. And we have Thomas Clayton (Ed Lindley), a new arrival to the area bringing a ton of new problems for both gangs to contend with.
The gloomy, dark back drop of industry and squalor ties the stage together perfectly. If you’re familiar with L.S. Lowry’s work, imagine that but from the ground looking up. But dustier. Dirtier. Darker. No sparking clogs in this version of Ancoats.
The story is panning out at a medium pace, which I feel is perfect for the tale that’s being told. The stage is a minimal set, but the cast are a perfect foil for that as they create subtle, choreographed movements and moods at certain points in the show, which enhance the goings-on on stage. I like that.
If you think Peaky Blinders; but in Manchester – you’ve kind of got the mood of the production.
“Gripping and emotional”
With poverty rife, Ancoats is a 19th century third-world. Life on stage is fraught – internally amongst the mobs as well as against their rivals. People are wanting to become gang leader; and blades, belts and bare knuckles are wielded around as often as you’d see a smartphone today. The language is as violent as the fight scenes and the threats that are exchanged between Bengal Street and Prussia Street. I enjoy how they act out the scraps and the fist fights without showcasing a playground punch-up or a drunken brawl.
The story line is both gripping and emotional. The cast grab their characters quite literally by the throat and give the audience action and drama. There’s an emotional and heart-wrenching aspect to the story too, as Joe and Susan (James Colley and Rachel Thompson) have a relationship that is in need of fixing, in amongst the chaos of the inter-street war.
Any qualms about the show? Maybe two. The actors aren’t connected to the sound system, and on a couple of occasions two of the characters voices are slightly drowned out by the sounds effects. And the second is that the play is only on for two nights… but that’s a compliment to what is a great performance this is from Wakefield’s highly talented theatre company.