EPSTEIN THEATRE, LIVERPOOL – 14TH SEPTEMBER 2022
REVIEWED BY MIA BOWEN
It has been more then 40 years, since the release of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, the debut album of four ordinary lads, who inspired by the punk revolution of 1970’s Manchester, came together to form one of the most influential bands of all time. The band name and LP cover for Unknown Pleasures is based on an image of radio waves from pulsar CP1919 and has become an iconic image, even outside the Joy Division fandom. As part of the Autumn 2022 production, New Dawn Fades is celebrating 10 years with an exciting and re-staged Northern Tour, including a return to the Epstein Theatre, located in the heart of Liverpool.
Written by the ingenious Brian Gorman, this highly acclaimed stage play is based on his graphic novel of the same title and brought to the stage by Manchester production company All Roads Meet, with executive producer Nina Whiteman. It is directed by writer, actor and improviser, Sean Mason and visual artist, performer, film maker and designer Giles D Bastow, both very accomplished and both part of the cast. Gorman also made an appearance in the play itself, as the historic characters of the Roman General Agricola, who ordered the founding of Mamucium, the foundations of what became Manchester and Dr John Dee, advisor to Elizabeth I. His appearance was pre recorded and beamed onto a large screen at the back. The sensitivity to history and interesting way of staging makes the story of Manchester and the music scene all the more engaging.
The cast played a handful of Joy Division classics live and imitated the original four piece, amazingly. When they performed Shadow Play, I felt like I was watching them on Granada Reports, live!
The cast in the play are fantastic. Al Donohoe plays the role of the flamboyant Tony Wilson, who co founded the seminal Manchester label Factory Records and acts as narrator.
Ian Curtis was born in 1956, married at 19, joined Joy Division and released Unknown Pleasures by the age of 22 and was dead by the age of 23. Joseph Walsh, who plays Curtis, in his early twenties himself and manages to take youth, innocence and vulnerability, as was at the heart of the real Joy Division story and turn it into an immersive experience. He very skilfully imitates Curtis’ haunting stage presence and dancing.
The rest of the band members, Bernard Sumner (Harry McLafferty), Peter Hook (Bill Bradshaw) and Stephen Morris (Matthew Melbourne) are strong and powerful characters and slightly resemble the real life band members. Bradshaw was hilarious as ‘Hooky’ Hook. Also in her early twenties is Leah Gray playing Deborah Curtis, perfect for articulating the touching tragic tale of Curtis’ wife.
No wonder it had a standing ovation! It is a testament to Joy Division that we are still talking about them today!