What could be nicer on a balmy summer’s afternoon than an open air performance of Shakespeare’s funniest comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed by an intrepid troupe of five excellent actors in a version lasting just under an hour? Not much, I’d say, if you can find it. More of that anon.
Castlefield Viaduct is a Grade II listed steel viaduct built in 1892 to link the world’s first intercity railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road, with the Great Northern warehouses and Central Station. It operated until 1969. In 2022, the National Trust took over and turned the 330-metre long structure into a rather lovely ‘sky park’, akin to the High Line in New York .
Seeking ways to attract visitors, the NT commissioned Facing North Theatre to produce a version of the Dream designed for the viaduct, and it works a treat. If you can find it.
Facing North is the creation of Manchester actor Lane Paul Stewart. Here, Stewart abridges, directs and performs, along with Ebony Feare, Louise McNulty, Nicola Jayne Ingram and Thomas Daniel Byrne. A more experienced bunch of Manchester actors you’d be hard pressed to find, and it shows.
The show is performed in the traverse using one end of the central path, with about 20 seats on each side, and nowhere for actors to hide. The abridgement is clever, focusing mostly on the lovers and the mechanicals, with Oberon and Titania appearing as the plot requires, so there’s quite a lot of running about and some very funny business, the whole presided over by a guitar-playing Puck. Everyone plays at least two and some three parts, and while it would be invidious to single anyone out, the tone of the piece is firmly set when Ingram’s very Northern Bottom appears. The lovers are always the funniest, and so it is here, and Bottom’s ears are rather good, although all the business with Titania has had to go.
One of the downsides of the viaduct is its proximity to the railway and we must have had five trains go past during the hour, but we could still hear the actors and, turning adversity to advantage, McNulty’s Starveling collects train numbers. I checked after the show. She really does.
This sort of thing needs good acting, good costumes, good music and good weather. All were in abundance and I had a jolly good time. The show was only on for five performances but the success of this production ought to encourage the NT to bring it back. And the viaduct is worth a visit in itself. It would be a pleasant place to meet friends or just sit and contemplate, if anyone has time for that these days.
However, they need to improve their signage. If you get off the tram at Deansgate-Castlefield on the Whitworth Street side you could wander about for hours trying to find it. If you disembark on the other side, you still wouldn’t know unless you walked in the right direction for 50 yards and then looked down at the pavement.
I was wandering round the canal when I suddenly thought ‘what3words’. Of course. But no, nothing on the website at all. For those of you unfamiliar with it, what3words is an app which divides the world into three-metre squares, and identifies each square by a unique three-word address. Some are meaningless, but some are charmingly poetic. Part of my back garden is cursing.fairly.irritable which sounds like an emotional weather forecast. My neighbour’s front door is welcome.singers.beaten. All your Christmas carollers, watch out. If companies performing on the viaduct put what3words on their publicity, it would be a big help. I reckon pint.rush.shelf is a good idea.
Photos by Lee Baxter