REVIEW: New Dawn Fades @ Leadmill
I was lucky enough to interview the writer of New Dawn Fades, Brian Gorman, back in April, and it was even apparent then that the bloke was thoroughly passionate about the project he brought to The Leadmill on the 23rd of April. New Dawn Fades: A play about Joy Division and Manchester is exactly what it says on the tin. Brian had explained to me that, in a nutshell, the play was the legendary Granada presenter Tony Wilson chronicling the history of Manchester and how it led up to the rise and fall of the most influential post-punk band of all time, Joy Division, with Ian Curtis’ lyrics gluing the stories together. Yeah, I hadn’t got a clue either, to be honest, but once I sat down and Lee Joseph’s accurate, if not slightly camp, Tony Wilson began effortlessly flipping in-and-out of interacting with members of the punk-fevered post-industrial Manchester society of the 1970s into interviews with the likes of John Dee and Julius Agricola, I was thoroughly invested in the play and what was it about.
The actors portraying the big names surrounding the enigmatic band proved instantly recognisable, well-thought out, and surprisingly likeable. Sean Mason was the unsung hero who provided the unmistakeable and consistently hilarious caricatures of the likes of Martin Hannett and Paul Morley. But it was always going to be the portrayal of Ian Curtis which the audience would scrutinize the most. Michael Whittaker, who played Curtis, wasn’t too prominent in the history-laden first act, but the best was yet to come. Brian Gorman had told me that Whittaker’s portrayal is “honestly like watching someone channelling the spirit of Ian Curtis: it’s uncanny!” which I had mistakenly overlooked as a writer having a bit too much faith in his cast. By the final scene of the first act, I was itching for a musical performance to see how Brian’s claim would hold up, so when the lights came up, and the cast-members portraying Joy Division stood set up for a performance, I was on the edge of my seat. As soon as Tony Wilson premiered the scene with the iconic quote, “Seeing how this is the programme that previously brought you everything from The Beatles to The Buzzcocks…”, everyone knew what was coming: Shadowplay. From here, the players really shone; accurately adopting the mannerisms and musical style of the musicians they were emulating, and I was thoroughly impressed with how closely Michael Whittaker had got to Ian Curtis’ distinctive vocal style. Up to the instrumental section, I was fairly satisfied with the overall performance by the band, but when Whittaker, true to Ian Curtis’ form, seemed to lose himself in the song and awkwardly jerk around the stage in the famous ‘dead-fly’ dance, I was transfixed. Brian’s claim was true, it felt like the Leadmill had been transported back to the Granada TV studios.
New Dawn Fades: A play about Joy Division and Manchester is not just a play for the people interested in those two topics. As Brian told me, “the play is about how every place has the potential to create something amazing”, and the subject of Joy Division is the vehicle used to present these ideas. The actors providing the iconic roles worked hard to develop the famously media-shy band into the relatable and likeable performances they brought to the stage, and the passion of every cast member involved shone right through until curtain-close. “No language, just sound, it’s all that we know; to synchronise love to the beat of the show.”
Words: Tom Green-Fuller
Photo: Chris Hargrave, www.shotbystan.com