This year Manchester School of Theatre (MMU) heads off to the studio in HOME for their productions.  Both an opportunity to appeal to new audiences, and a risk that existing supporters won’t make the trip up Oxford Road, the studio is half full for the Friday afternoon.  It’s a good performance space, seating up to 150 in flexible seating.  Certainly the initial staging lives up to high expectations with a bold fenced set which is imaginatively used throughout the production.

Drawing on Shakespeare and Orwell, Brutopia by Howard Barker is ‘a riposte to the conventional image of Thomas More, [taking] as its starting point the alienation of the least favoured of his daughters and her secret composition of a counter-text to her father’s classic, Utopia’.  We see the idealistic world of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ and the destructive world of Cecilia’s ‘Brutopia’ clash within the families of Henry VIII and Thomas More.  Nothing involving these historical characters can never end well, but the journey is fascinating and the premise is original.  There is so much to discover in the text that it’s worth seeing a second time, but perhaps that means it’s just a little too complex.

It’s an interesting choice of play, driven primarily by the interactions between the characters of Thomas More (Jerome Dowling), Cecilia (Farran Mitchell) and Henry VIII (Tyler Conti).  The acting is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Manchester School of Theatre, but there was certainly more scope to develop the the complexities and contradictions within each character.  Supporting roles were done well, and it was good to see strength in depth in the current year.

It is great to see the technical standards maintained in this new theatre.  The direction is excellent, there is good pace throughout, and the staging is used to impressive effect.  Change is good but sometimes it takes time to settle.   New venue, new academic year, new challenges, new audience, but overall the same high standards I have come to expect from Manchester School of Theatre.  There’s a lot of promise for the forthcoming year.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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