Friday, 12 February 2010

Raisin in the Sun

Second only to our very own Regent Cinema, Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre is a favourite destination for a Mandall family outing. It amazes me that our three boys regularly consent to join Mrs M and myself on these occasions. It’s probably because we try to fit in a pizza first, if there’s a bogof at one of the nearby eateries.

The Royal Exchange is a glorious celebration of Manchester’s pre-eminence in the global cotton trade. Its modern theatre-in-the-round is an airy three-tiered cylinder, anchored to the massive pillars that define the floor of t’Change. The closing cotton prices from around the world on its last day of trading still look down from the gods.

Tracy Ifeachor as Beneatha & Damola Adelaja as Joseph Asagai in A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Photo by Jonathan Keenan

The theatre’s middle tier suits me, because the seats are like bar-stools, not so comfy that I'll doze off. Also, should I snore, I’m less likely to be caught napping than with the groundlings under the stage lights.

The lights fade up on Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. We look down from our stools onto a Chicago apartment: a kid is asleep on the couch; his mum, or should that be mom, moves around this single family room, fetches the paper, turns on the stove to cook breakfast.

Unlike nearly all the audience, the actors are black. When the granny, Lena (played by Starletta duPois, who's been doing this play since I was in short trousers) gets her insurance cheque following her husband’s death, all she wants is for her family to be happy. She wants them all to have a proper house, where her grandchildren to be raised in the sun, out in the sunny but exceedingly white suburbs, far from the smoke and the clatter of the trains outside the window.

Some time after the ice-creams (even better than at the Regent, but somewhat pricier) a white bloke appears in the apartment. He’s silver-haired, comfortably built, in a woolly jumper, with a well-worn tan briefcase and lace-up shoes like the ones I wear on my walks to the Derbyshire end of our village. He's a bit like me so I warm to him. The nice white man says he’s from the residents’ committee, and has come to welcome them to the new home Lena's bought. He then proceeds to offer to buy them out, tries to make them an offer they can’t refuse. Something about skin, and not fitting in. "There goes the neighborhood".

You’ll have to go and see Raisin in the Sun to find out what happens next. You’d have to go very far to find a better play or better acting. Hurry up: it closes on the twentieth.

I suppose that King Cotton left Marple Bridge and Manchester quite a long time ago - but perhaps Starletta can till hear his cotton-picking servants whispering behind the pillars of the Royal Exchange.

Out here in the Bridge, village life is pretty sunny between the snow flurries, but it's still freezing. I read somewhere that Samuel Oldknow chose Marple Bridge to build his great cotton mill amidst what we call the Roman Lakes (why, I'm sure our wonderful Marple Local History Society can explain), so the workers could move out from the Manchester stews, and live in the fresh country air. And up on the hill, descendants of Richard Arkwright (he of the water-frame - or was it the spinning jenny?) paid for a fine new school. I expect they learned about whirling dervishes.

It’s a funny old thing, as I was saying to Mrs M, but there don’t seem to be many mill hands in Marple and Mellor these days. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair of clogs this side of the M60.

And people of color? Not many seem to make it over the M60 either. But I’m working in Old Trafford this week, so I’ll bring home some of those wonderful Pakistani mango smoothies for the boys.

PS Mrs M’s very troubled that injury may have forced our very own whirling dervish, Robbie White, out of the final of So you think you can dance on Saturday night. She’s been following his career since he was in Year 11. All the Mandalls wish Robbie the very best.


  1. lcary@artsanctuary.orgMonday, 15 February, 2010

    Oh,I'm hooked now, Tom. I've read the blogs for a few weeks, and this Friday I thought: a new View from the Bridge will be coming today. I look forward to visiting your world. Mostly, I crave the specificity, the clear images, exact times and places: bar-stool seats in the theater's middle tier; the character's wearing lace-up shoes like the ones you wear to the end of your village, and how they help you warm to the man who's trying to buy out the family; mango smoothies. I followed the blood pudding link a couple weeks ago and watched three times!

  2. Dear Lorene

    How lovely it is to get this appreciative comment.

    I feel spurred on to my next view, this Friday. I hope it will make you want to stick around a little longer.

    PS you also have Mrs M to thank for Friday's column. She pulled my first attempt, because she said it wasn't good enough.


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