Cotton Panic!

The old Victorian market space works perfectly as a space for a gig or for an immersive theatre piece. Giant screens either side of the stage project ephemeral images interspersed with close ups of actress and activist Glenda Jackson and other storytellers. On stage is the tiny and feisty Jane Horrocks fizzing with passion and energy. Behind her is a translucent screen projecting more images and seemingly super-imposed behind that is the band Wrangler and their analogue synthesizers.

A mix of folk music and clog dancing blend into Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ and Grace Jone’s ‘Slave to the Rhythm’, with synth music and story-telling of the poverty and political struggle weaving together to celebrate our working-class heritage in the North West.

Walking through the space feels exciting and quite special. The sense of urgency and energy is intoxicating and moving sporadically from the back of the space I soon find myself at the front of the stage. Watching Horrocks’ character descend into wretched poverty and dependency on the kindness of others is a sharp reminder of the problems inherent in misinformed aid and assistance. How often do we make assumptions about the needs of others? When we buy a homeless stranger a sandwich do we check first if they are vegetarian or gluten-intolerant or do we simply expect their gratitude? If we give money for aid do we want to meet a specific need or one which we feel is appropriate? 

This is the story of the cotton industry in Lancashire from riches to rags in the industrial carnage that arose from the American Civil War (1861-1865). It is a timely reminder of how any growing economy is intensely vulnerable to over dependency on a single commodity. The lack of cotton arriving in the 1870s crippled Lancashire and created mass unemployment and poverty. It would be good to think we have learned valuable lessons from our social and economic history yet sadly we continue to waste valuable resources and make poor electoral decisions like Brexit.

Emerging from this performance into the evening sunshine on Deansgate many of the crowd dispersed to nearby bars and restaurants. A lovely way to end a sociable evening. Perhaps the sobering thought being in a coffee or wine shortage would we be inconvenienced or potentially economically ruined? (AD)

- Amanda Dunlop

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

 

Lancashire Cotton Failure - W.O. Henderson

Manchester Austerity and Homelessness - Manchester Evening News

Ethics and Aid

Potential impact on Manchester of Brexit - Manchester Evening News