Even by the wild and woolly standards of Manchester International Festival, the Manchester cholera epidemic of the 1830s might be considered an unlikely inspiration for a project, let alone one for the first major UK project from a Tokyo-based art collective. Yet, courtesy of Chim↑Pom and their MIF hosts, Contact Young Curators, here I am in a usually closed-off tunnel deep beneath Victoria Station hearing about the way cholera swept through Manchester almost 200 years ago, with so many, usually industrial, workers, dying from the deadly virus that tens of thousands were buried in deep pits on the site of what is now Victoria Station.
This, as you might have guessed, includes the very site where we’re now standing, looking nervously at the stuffed rats who constitute part of Chim↑Pom’s early work, Super Rat, which we’ve already glimpsed on our torch-lit way in to the tunnel and wondering what exactly the protectively-garbed workers we’ve also glimpsed can possibly be up to further down the tunnel. Moreover, what can this possibly have to do with beer?
All is gradually revealed, but I can say that the answer to the beer question revolves around the fact that thousands actually survived the cholera epidemic, improbably, because they drank beer instead of water, one of history’s little jokes that so tickled the playful Chim↑Pom on an exploratory visit last year that they were inspired to brew (very hygienically, it should be emphasised) their own A Drop Of Pandemic beer in the tunnels.
With its bizarre blend of humour, beer and a unique slant on Manchester’s history, A Drunk Pandemic is not only inventive and educational, but genuinely entertaining, although probably not a show for the easily upset and definitely not for under-18s.
Main image: © Chim↑Pom photo by Leslie Kee.
A Drunk Pandemic, part of Manchester International Festival, is on at Manchester Victoria Station until July 21, 2019. For more information, click here.