Nothing Stays Secret For Long

3 March
Chetham’s Library

Nothing Stays Secret For Long is the first of six events under the moniker Let The Artists In. The events are produced by Harry Altman and Abi Hynes, producers of the Manchester-based open mic night, First Draft.

The first venue is Chetham’s Library and the diaries of Victorian teenager, Dora Torner, which can be found in the library, provide the basis for all the work on show. The artists give varying levels of insight into Dora, ranging from none to a bit.

Manchester singer Yemi Bolatiwa’s beautiful voice and lyrics effectively evoke the sense of melancholy that Dora feels from being continually ill. Mitchell Robinson talks about the pressed flowers he found in Dora’s diary, handing out small prints on envelopes with dried flowers inside.

In the second half, Andy Owen Cook makes the pertinent point that given Dora’s wealth, Dora wasn’t “ill”, she was “convalescing”. It’s a point which, given the appalling conditions most children lived in during Victorian times, could have been explored further. But it is lost amidst the sound of Andy playing a plastic trumpet and singing in his Grandma’s shirt, which, while entertaining, did beg the question: What does this have to do with Dora?

Similarly, no one sees the diaries themselves, apart from in a digital commission by Mark Mace Smith, which is only available to view on the website after the event. That, along with a lack of staging and atmosphere, leads to an overall feeling that Nothing Stays Secret For Long missed a lot of artistic opportunities to maximise on the material and the venue.

However, there are five more shows to go, including two more events in Manchester - at the Jewish Museum and the Portico Library - and three in Newcastle, so it remains to be seen whether First Draft can strike a balance that allows the artists to project their true selves while creating something which fits the space.

Emma Roy-Williams