When most people think of Christmas, they will probably envisage some type of picture perfect get-together with family, friends and neighbours, even if it’s entirely fictional and irrelevant to them. We are bombarded with that type of imagery for the months leading up to Christmas. We’re told to join a saving scheme so we can have ‘a perfect family Christmas this year’, even as early as January.
Is there such a thing as a perfect Christmas? I personally have never had one and over the years have regularly felt overwhelmed and inadequate that as a single parent, financially, I wasn’t able to give my child ‘the ideal family Christmas’. It’s actually quite reassuring when you see that others know of no such thing either.
The Monkeywood Theatre Company put on their ‘Manchester Project at Christmas’ performance at HOME Manchester. It is a play constructed of many parts, that focus on the more realistic perspective of the festive time and show that lots of people themselves don’t have the perfect Christmas. After the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, 14 writers from different areas of Manchester came together with an idea to showcase what represented their own personal snapshot of where they’re from. It took over two years to bring the show to life due to the writers various other commitments. Surprisingly, it was only in August this year that the writers decided – “we’re doing this and it’s going to happen this December!” The finished product is a polished set of well written short plays. Some were poignant, some political and some were laugh-out-loud funny, and all kept me very much entertained.
The performers all used the same prop during all of the performances: a simple Santa hat. The ones you see worn on at least half the staff members in nearly every shop. The performers transformed the hat in to a multitude of things including a ferret, a bandage and even a baby, while the 14 different scenes were varied with only Christmas as the common theme.
There was homage paid to the Nativity story in the re-telling of the Virgin Mary’s tale as a 14-year old girl from Crumpsall discussing her situation with her friend. “The Angel of the North told me…” Given the type of ‘sass’ you may expect from a teen, her mate tells her in no uncertain terms that Mary’s boyfriend Joseph is no way going to believe she’s still a virgin and must have been sleeping around.
In another play, there’s a Christmas carol-off where festive entertainers end up reconnecting after a long time of absence. In Moss Side there’s an hilarious exchange in a Carribean takeaway, which gave me the best word of the night “BREXSHIT”! In fact, my favourite line of the night came from a Cheetham Hill clothes seller with the gift of the gab: “If you wear this out tonight, people are gonna think Christina Aguilera’s in town!” Other stories were not so amusing and mentioned hard-hitting and painful subject matters such as deportation, the consequences of cuts to the NHS and transphobic attacks. In Strangeways, there’s a young man who having got clean from drugs, now has to tell his mum that when he’s finished his sentence, he’s not coming back to their home. An older lady with possible dementia breaks into the shut down Nello James community centre in Whalley Range and the police are called. A man and woman who were once a couple, come together to talk about what their dead child might do on Christmas day, had she lived. Plays rarely get more varied than that!
All are as gripping as they are a roller coaster of emotions. The actors are so talented that they made me feel as though I was actually walking around different parts of Manchester with a hidden camera, documenting everyday life rather than sat comfortably in the theatre.
The Manchester Project at Christmas takes the falseness and brainwashing out of Christmas imagery and leaves you feeling entertained and… normal. However, it is also makes it abundantly clear that there is no such thing as “a normal Christmas” let alone a perfect one and the rest of the media seriously need to catch up with that fact.
The traditional act of giving at Christmas is not left out, but the plays honour those who clearly give all year round, such as nurses, family carers and volunteers. This is a Christmas must-see. You will listen intently, smile, laugh, and maybe even cry. It should be seen if not for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, but at the very least, to be able to walk away from a Christmas production feeling like you haven’t already failed. That’s a rare thing to feel at Christmas when money’s an issue. I walked away feeling empowered and that I should do more for those who have far less than I do and stop worrying about living up to some loud, gilded fantasy that represents absolutely no one I’ve ever met. Go and see the Monkeywood Theatre Company perform their brilliant Christmas Project in Manchester. You won’t be disappointed.
For tickets to the upcoming Manchester Project at Christmas shows, take a look here