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REVIEW: Scuttlers | Royal Exchange

Kate Morris on a new original play about Victorian Manchester's notorious youth gangs

Written by . Published on February 11th 2015.

REVIEW: Scuttlers | Royal Exchange

WRITTEN by Rona Munro and directed by Wils Wilson, this world premiere puts the spotlight on the brutal lives of Victorian Manchester's violent teenage hoodlums - the Scuttlers.

There's a bubbling sense of danger and eruption throughout the play which gives proceedings a fantastic energy.

The scene is immediately set amongst the graft and squalor of late-19th century industrial Manchester with a cylindrical ‘curtain’ of cotton stretching from a mechanical rig to the floor. Six industrial workers work singular threads while a contrasting cacophony of industrial sounds surround the workers and the audience.

Outside the mill walls, life is lived out large on the crumbling streets of Ancoats and Salford, with the warring Bengal Tigers and Prussia Street youth factions waging merciless turf battles armed with belts, fist and knives for nothing more than local pride and a sense of belonging.

Poor and crowded living conditions mount tensions in the hellish slums, with gang members - mostly teenagers scorned and outcast from their families - aiming to prove themselves and eke out some modicum of respect and social standing.

Scuttlers - Royal ExchangeScuttlers - Royal Exchange

Parallel to the main narrative of gang warfare, run several other strands of story, all of which carry an underlying theme of abandonment.

Head Bengal Tiger Sean (Bryan Parry) is challenged for leadership by number two Jimmy (Dan Parr) causing unwanted conflict in their own camp, Sean's girlfriend Teresa (Rona Morison) discovers her estranged brother Joe (Tachia Newall) has returned from the army and now sits on Prussia Street territory having just unknowingly fathered a son, while newcomer Thomas (David Judge) comes to the Ancoats slum with a head full of stories and a desire to become top dog of the Tigers.

These mounting stories can come across as overwhelming, however, there's also bubbling sense of danger and eruption throughout the play which gives proceedings a fantastic energy.

The violence inevitably explodes in the second act with the rival gangs finally coming to blows as each story begins to boil over. The most powerful scene comes at the show’s close, when wronged Tiger prodigy Polly (Chloe Harris) becomes invisible to 20th-century pedestrians hurrying through the streets bathed in blood.

Wil Wilson’s dynamic production is bolstered by the choreography of Frantic Assembly director Eddie Kay, whose intense and violent scenes on the streets of Manchester evoke memories of the not-so-distant Manchester riots of 2011 - the inspiration behind the production.

Scuttlers by Rona Munro plays at The Royal Exchange until 7 March 2015.

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