Angels With Manky Faces, Library Theatre Manchester

UPDATE…I’ve just heard the play is being performed again which is great news for anyone who missed it first time round because it was sold out. Angels With Manky Faces will be performed at the Dancehouse on Friday, November 6 at 8pm and Sunday, November 8 at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are £10 (£9 concs).

Dancehouse Theatre, Oxford Road.
T: 0161 237 9753
W: Dancehouse Theatre

Inspired by the book Gangs of Manchester, the play Angels With Manky Faces is about the gangs – or scuttlers – that roamed the streets in the ninteenth century. But more importantly, the book and the play both remind us that binge drinking, casual sex, gang warfare and
street crime are far from being modern phenomena.

I bought the book, Gangs of Manchester, which was written by historian Andrew Davies, before I went to the play and it was fascinating. And it makes you realise that when people hark back to the good old days, they certainly weren’t these times. Manchester during the Industrial Revolution times sounds downright scary – and however much I say I’m skint, my standard of living is just pure luxury compared how the factory workers used to live.

Rob Lees and Jill Hughes of MaD theatre company, a community not-for-profit dramatics company in Manchester, collaborated with author Andrew Davies to come up with this modern take on the story. Set in Ancoats in 1894 when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the year the Manchester Ship Canal opened, overcrowding and heavy drinking were real problems in this area.

Leader of the Bengal Tigers of Bengal Street (near where Sankeys is now), Jimmy Johnson was played by the excellent Jack Williamson. Much of the play depicted the gang going off to fight others, the girls causing trouble between the gangs and the raucous local pub.

Directed by Rob Lees, the play was interspersed with film as part of the performance which worked really well at keeping the audience’s interest. Well-known Mancunian faces popped up to perform songs including band Twisted Wheel, Mike Joyce of The Smiths and XfM DJ Clint Boon. Also appearing in the film section were Rob Henshaw, from Looking for Eric, as did Coronation Street actor Graeme Hawley, although I didn’t know who either of them were.

At the risk of sounding older than my years, I did find the whole performance really loud as the actors were shouting and screeching at each other in exaggerated Manchester accents (must be my delicate outsider ears). The only other downside was that it would have benefited from a stronger plot, rather than just trying to depict the lives of the characters.

Overall, the play was incredibly successful selling out all dates from August 17-22, and was a really brave outing as well as a massive coup for a community theatre company to get all those well-known Manchester faces involved.


  • Pingback: Another Chance to See “Angels with Manky Faces” « Forever Manchester Blog

  • April 12, 2010 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    I’ve heard great things about this but missed my chance to see it. Is there any word of it making a return in 2010?

  • carolynh
    April 12, 2010 - 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve not heard anything at all – but it might be worth giving MaD Theatre Company a shout to ask them.

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