The differences between North and South Manchester – both real and imagined – are presented to hilarious effect in Posh Tramps and Papooses – the new production from Manchester’s excellent MaD Theatre Company.
When I was growing up in Moss Side in the 70s, there was nothing to distinguish one side of the city from the other. They were just distinct parts of the same place. When I was little – whenever we went to see my cousins in Harpurhey, via two buses – there was nothing between us. We talked in exactly the same way and wore the same clothes. I used to think their house was posher than ours, but only because they had plastic taps on the sink and bath – yes, real plastic.
In my last year of school, it was at a production of Romeo and Juliet at Abraham Moss High School in Crumpsall where I learned that not everyone saw Manchester as one big happy family. As a few of us left to catch a bus, we found ourselves re-enacting one of the scenes from the play, as the Crumpsall Capulets chased us Moss Side Montagues all the way back to town. We were too frightened to shout out any of the lines but the irony wasn’t lost on us.
The two sides of town seemed to have fared differently down the years, both in reality and public image. Despite having its own troubled areas, the focus in south Manchester is generally drawn to Didsbury and Chorlton – affluent suburbs where crime is pretty low and lifestyles are considered bohemian and London-leaning. In what is clearly an intentionally lazy contrast, people from outside the city have been encouraged to believe that the Northern end of town is solely populated by extras from Coronation Street and the cast of People Like Us -the BBC’s disgraceful little piece of poverty-porn, foisted on us earlier this year.
The MaD Theatre Company (Moston active Drama) have been providing quality and affordable drama workshops to disadvantaged young people and adults since 1996. As a preview to a nine date tour, starting in July, MaD brought their latest production to the Chorlton Arts Festival and had a packed Chorlton Irish Club rolling with laughter in the aisles.
In Posh Tramps and Papooses, through various circumstances, a family from Moston pitch up in Chorlton and we experience the contrasts through their eyes. On arrival, Ma Longbottom, her sons Calvin and Malcolm – and Calvin’s mate Melvin – point out what they see, to great comic effect. When Calvin exclaims “Look over there, there’s a bird drinking a brew outside!” we know what to expect from the rest of the play.
We meet various Chorlton stereotypes as we go along, with middle-class girls Minnie and Daisy revelling in the opportunity to slum it a bit with their trophy-scrotes, Calvin and Melvin, all the while betraying their origins with everything they say. One of them declares her love for “Oh-way-seez” and “A Guy Called Gerr-ahld” while the other insists a little too much that she adores having “a chippy tea”. They also perform a terribly cloying interpretation of the Ewan MacColl classic, Dirty Old Town.
The horror on the Longbottoms’ faces is palpable when they’re given the price for the food they’re eating in a Chortlon café, only to be told: “You’re not paying for the sausage and mash, you’re paying for the irony!”
Lucy Weekes is great as neurotic college lecturer, Cordelia. Her constant dismissal of put-upon husband Simeon is almost a direct lift from actual conversations I’ve overheard.
For someone like me, with a foot in both camps, it’s great fun to watch a play like this. I love living around the Chorlton area but spend half of my time laughing at its sillier idiosyncrasies and obsessions because I grew up in a place that had more in common with the Longbottoms’ lives.
Difference is always funny, but MaD manage to keep it just the right side of affectionate, so that all sides can laugh at these pantomime versions of themselves. When the caricatures are drawn deliberately crudely, it’s impossible to be offended by them, which is a smart trick from the writers, Rob Lees and Jill Hughes. Most of the crowd were from Chorlton but were quite happy to laugh at themselves. They didn’t seem to mind when Ma declared that she wanted to go back to Moston where at least everyone there knew that the emperor was stark-bollock naked.
With two halves of 45 minutes, MaD have the worthy aim of getting people to watch theatre who are more comfortable at football matches or gigs – and a play like Posh Tramps and Papooses is the perfect fare to encourage them in.
Review by Charlie Bell
Where: Chorlton Irish Club, Chorlton
When: touring throughout the summer