Cotton Panic! at Manchester International Festival reviewed

Manchester, a city synonymous with the cotton industry, the home of industrialisation and the innovation and prosperity it brought along with it. This is the topic explored in Cotton Panic! as part of the Manchester International Festival, but not as you might expect.

The Manchester International Festival is an eighteen day long festival returning for a sixth time this year is a celebration of original and new cultural works that brings together artists from different backgrounds to create thought provoking pieces.

Cotton Panic! has been created by Jane Horrocks (well known for her roles in Absolutely Fabulous and Little Voice), her partner Nick Vivian and the dance/electronic group Wrangler.

It is less a depiction of economic prosperity and more one that examines the human cost of capitalisation (heavy I know). The story unfolds to show the inspiring levels of support shown between the North of England and the slaves of the American South, whose exploitation was powering the mills. As a Mancunian I was quite ashamed on a personal level that I was unaware of this part of my city’s history. I was however wholly proud to learn of the unity shown with the Northern American states (at a detriment to their own families I might add) in order to help abolish slavery.

Set in Upper Campfield Market Hall opposite the Beetham Tower, the venue was stunning and very befitting of the theme like so many other MIF performances so far this month. Top marks for location, it really felt as though you were in an abandoned mill living through the embargo alongside the workers.

Slightly lacking in the spoken word and context, the majority of the piece was performed through traditional Lancashire folk song and gospel music from the American south. As Jane paraded the stage in a whiter than white cotton dress, she managed to capture the range of emotions fantastically from start to finish. What began as a display of prosperity soon turned to panic and poverty and finally a showing of togetherness.

Audience participation was even involved towards the end as Jane meandered through the crowd imploring everyone, “Can you help us a little bit?” to the repetitive, deafening sounds of the mill that featured heavily throughout the soundtrack. For those that stayed behind afterwards, they found out the question was taken from an article in the national paper in the early 1860’s sent in by a young worker from the North. He called on anyone to send help, in any way they could. It was only at this point the government sat up and took notice.

The last few moments were taken up by images from around the world today. Slides of Theresa May, Donald Trump and the Black Lives Matter protests featuring heavily on all three screens that surrounded the stage at the back and at the sides. The link between the need for global solidarity and not selfishness and fearmongering in times of hardship was a little unnecessary I felt. Most people would have already drawn modern day comparisons for the need to help and not hinder or ignore the plight of those suffering. I suppose what it does teach us is the power of the individual in bringing about social and political change.

Overall a powerful performance by all and a highly enjoyable interpretation of a truly testing time in the course of human history.

If you are looking to rent or buy in the city centre of Manchester to go and see more events like this one, contact our frinedly team in the city centre who will be more than happy to help.