A Story About Joy Division and Manchester 22 April, Leadmill Ian Curtis once remarked that, “I struggle between what I know is right in my own mind, and some warped truthfulness as seen through other people’s eyes who have no heart, and can’t see the difference anyway.” There have been many interpretations of ‘truth’ where […]

A Story About Joy Division and Manchester
22 April, Leadmill

Ian Curtis once remarked that, “I struggle between what I know is right in my own mind, and some warped truthfulness as seen through other people’s eyes who have no heart, and can’t see the difference anyway.”

There have been many interpretations of ‘truth’ where Joy Division are concerned, from those closest to Curtis, such as his widow, Debbie, or through the very public bitter biographical bickering between bandmates Hooky and Barney.

I had a perhaps naïve hope that a theatrical presentation of Joy Division’s history in the form of New Dawn Fades might provide some real insight into these lives less ordinary, much in the way that Control did. Using the Leadmill to stage the play for two nights, taking into account the building’s own heritage, was undoubtedly a stroke of genius.

Nevertheless, alarm bells start ringing as the audience is introduced to a number of historical characters including the Roman General, Julius Agricola, who I now know built the military encampment in the fifth century AD that would one day become Manchester, and Elizabethan astrologer, Dr John Dee, who is said to have summoned the devil before moving to the city briefly.

These leftfield twists had enormous potential to complement the main story arc, but their bold inclusion demands they be executed with finesse and flair. The gurning lasciviousness that characterises Phil Dennison’s Julius is played for laughs, but before long it feels more like Carry On Manchester than the knowing synthesis of history and music that it purports to be.

Lee Joseph’s portrayal of the inimitable Anthony H Wilson is at least more compelling and it needs to be, as he is a constant presence throughout. The actors who play the band members make every effort to bring their characters to life, but ultimately only succeed in conveying caricatures that lack depth, this being most notably evident in Hooky’s persistent and aggressive outbursts.

Following the interval, in which a non-conventional theatre audience take advantage of the five minute call to refill their glasses rather than return to their seats, there is tangible anticipation at the prospect of seeing but more importantly hearing the band. In fact, the live performances are the highlight of the evening, as Michael Whittaker fully immerses himself in the lead role, twitching and jerking his way to his inevitable demise.

Ultimately, the production is a disappointingly familiar and well-trod tale with an uninspiring script forming its fatal flaw and preventing it from realising its ambition, ironically resulting in a significant amount of the near-capacity crowd making an early exit.

Wayne Hoyle