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Interview: Brian Gorman ‘New Dawn Fades’

Graphic novelist, writer, and occasional actor Brian Gorman is set to bring his newest production to Sheffield. New Dawn Fades is a play about influential post-punk band Joy Division, whilst also chronicling the history of Manchester through narration by the legendary Tony Wilson. It only makes sense that Exposed’s resident Manc, ‘Ar Kid’ Tom Green-Fuller gets a perspective of the play from the writer himself.

Hiya Brian, how are you doing?

I’m OK thanks, bit of a late night, but I’m not too bad.

Well, I’ll try not to keep you …

Don’t worry about it, I’ve got my coffee, so I’m alright now!

So, a lot of the venues for the play are in quite small, intimate venues. Was this a deliberate attempt to recreate the Joy Division gig space?

(Laughs) Good question. It’s actually very slowly getting to play in bigger and bigger venues, but it did premier in a room above a pub at the Edinburgh Fringe! But Rowetta from the Happy Mondays turned up to that first gig, which was un-nerving, but she enjoyed it. We’ve now played up to 500 seat venues, because we get a really good reaction. I think 400 seaters are about the right size – it’s not one of those plays that’ll be as good in huge venues.

On that subject, what do you think about a Manc-music star like Rowetta loving the play?

It means a lot. We always mention Rowetta’s approval on the posters and that, because obviously she knows the band and has sang with Hooky in his band Peter Hook & The Light, so obviously if someone that close to the band enjoys the play, we must’ve done alright!

The play’s based on a graphic novel you wrote about Joy Division and Manchester. Was there any influence of how Joy Division has been portrayed in films like ‘Control’ or ‘Twenty-four Hour Party People’?

No, not really. See, about 2006 I was thinking about doing something unique about the history of Manchester and Salford. I got chatting to a friend who’s a graphic novelist, Bryan Talbot. He’s worked on Batman, Judge Dredd, so fairly well-known. He had done this graphic novel called ‘Alice in Sunderland’ which is about Lewis Carroll and his ties to Sunderland. I thought that was a good idea, and settled on using an icon of the city, Tony Wilson, to tell the history of Manchester through his narration, and then use Ian Curtis lyrics to link it all together, because a lot of his lyrical themes I found could be quite relevant to the subject.

The casting of characters have been praised numerous times. Was casting one of the things you saw as most important?

Casting was undoubtedly one of the most important factors we considered. I’ll be honest, if you come to see this play, you’ll be seeing the closest thing you can get to Joy Division without actually seeing them. I wanted to try out Michael Whittaker, who I’ve worked with before; he was the right build, the right height, right hair-colour … he’s even nailed the voice! But the thing that struck me was his ability to do the famous ‘dead-fly’ dance. We told him in rehearsals, don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right, but the dance he does is uncannily similar! It’s honestly like watching someone channelling the spirit of Ian Curtis on stage!

How difficult was it to translate the unique style of the graphic novel to fit the stage?

The thing is, I never really thought to myself ‘I’m going to take the book and put it on the stage’. There was a lot of copyright issues with publishing lyrics, and I didn’t want to waste the work I’d done, so I thought I’d put it on at The Fringe and see how it’d work. Anything’s possible with a theatre, you see, because it’s all based on audience reaction, whereas a film you just need a lot of money. All I did to translate it was to try and recreate the minimalistic style of the novel. I wanted the stage to be just like that famous picture of the band in that dingy little rehearsal studio, so we put a Marshall amplifier and a few chairs on the stage and it gives the effect that the whole play takes place in that studio.

Do you think the subject matter of the play – Manchester, Madchester and punk rock – will mean it’ll appeal more to a different crowd than your standard theatre-goers?

Hard to say, really. I know the play is billed as something about Joy Division and Manchester, but you don’t have to know anything about either to really enjoy it. The real theme of the play is about how every place has the potential to create something amazing. The whole play shows the entire history of Manchester, and how these four lads were in a certain place at a certain time and managed to create something amazing from that. For example, what if none of them had gone to that Sex Pistols gig? What if Ian Curtis had been born five years earlier? What if none of them had lived in the same city? Then we would never have had one of the most influential bands together. The play’s really about how things come from other things, and Joy Division’s just the example I chose because they are something I’m passionate about.

Another project you’re working on is a graphic novel about the life of Patrick McGoohan. Is this going to be a similar thing – story of the city through someone’s life?

Not as much, no. I’d done a one-man play about Patrick McGoohan because of how much I love ‘The Prisoner’. I’d read a lot about his life, and it was just so interesting. It was like an entirely backwards process of the way I did the Joy Division idea. New Dawn Fades came from a desire to chronicle the history of Manchester, into a desire to do a graphic novel, and then finally coming to Joy Division as a sort of catalyst. The Patrick McGoohan one was more of a detective process – I wanted to find out more about his life, what had influenced him up to this point to lead him to partake in the thing he was most famous for – ‘the Prisoner’. It’s kind of like the work with the Hadron Collider; using a device to essentially see back in time to see how we came to a certain point. It’s not quite the same scale, but it’s always interested me how one thing leads to another to create something amazing.

‘New Dawn Fades: A play about Joy Division and Manchester’ comes to The Leadmill on the 22nd and 23rd April.

Words: Tom Green-Fuller

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