16 Sep 2019
The proper good New Dawn Fades play review  
New Dawn Fades - play review

"A Play About Joy Division and Manchester"... I'd imagine that most if not all the audience in attendance tonight are well versed in the short history of the band and and are familiar with the music released between 1978 and 1980. It would be easy to suggest that the writer and producers are pushing against an open door... but in effect I think the opposite is actually true.

There is so much love for the legacy of the band and the characters portrayed in this performance celebrating 40 Years of Unknown Pleasures that the stakes are actually higher along with people's expectations.

This was the 2nd performance of the 3 night run in Manchester before moving to Sheffield and London, and for the 2nd night the performance finished with a standing ovation... and boy was it deserved.

Every actor involved nailed their part.

Alan Donohoe effortlessly portrays Tony Wilson, coming across as the "TV Tony Wilson" I grew up with on Granada TV rather than the slightly larger than life caricatures in the two films produced about Factory and Joy Division.

Joseph Walsh delivers a complex and tortured Ian Curtis which also highlights the artistic and fragility of the man. His chaos and confusion portrayed in the Derby Hall scene especially is heart-breaking.

Leah Gray is wonderful as Deborah Curtis, moving from doting girlfriend to angry jilted wife and mother. Although not on stage quite as much as the male characters, Leah delivers a couple of the of the most powerful scenes in the whole play, the first being just 2 words, one line, a question... "Who's Annik?" which cuts through the silence in the auditorium, people almost holding their breath. The second, comes just before the tragic conclusion as Debbie and Ian trade lines from 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' giving the audience a sense of the genuine pain and frustration being felt in Macclesfield in 1980 by the young couple

Harry McLafferty, Bill Bradshaw and Matthew Melbourne play Bernard, Hooky and Stephen to great effect, all having the character traits you'd expect if you've seen the numerous interviews and portrayals of the would be New Order. The trio are often found bouncing off each other and have some of the best lines and put downs but also get their own 'deep moments' especially when coming to terms with the issues which had been faced by their singer.

Directors Sean Mason and Giles D. Bastow also appear, the latter as Rob Gretton who channels the late manager of the band as well as Paddy Constantine in 'Control' and as recognisable as the man himself from the footage and interviews that can be found in the likes of 'New Order Story'. The former actually takes on 11 roles throughout the play, many as comic relief and the butt of jokes. However, he's a superb as producer Martin Hannett (clearly taking joy in the immortal line "play faster... but slower.")

Writer Brian Gorman appears in cameo roles via filmed inserts as Roman General Julius Agricola and also Dr John Dee helping Alan's Tony Wilson to provide the history of our wonderful Northern City.

But it's not just the acting… as you may expect, the sound and lighting play a massive part and are also spot on. With the stage set being quite sparse, other than the band's equipment and a few crates and chairs and the occasional microphone, The deft audio and visuals really put focus on the actors and allows them to really excel in their roles and take the audience on a journey through the highs and lows to the inevitable end.

Whilst not taking anything away from '24 Hour Party People' or 'Control', 'New Dawn Fades' feels like 'THE' authentic telling of the Joy Division story. This maybe because it's delivered "live and direct" rather than on a screen. There are scenes that uncomfortably come to life, such as those when Ian first has a fit, or as mentioned previously Debbie and Ian trade lyrics as their marriage crumbles really hit home.

I would highly recommend people catch this if they get a chance in this short run.

I attended with my 12-year-old who loves Joy Division's music and has seen the films (OK so there is a fair bit of swearing and death in the play but he already knows the story and hears worse at football) and a friend of my age.

My son wants to see it again at some point in the future and enjoyed it because it "felt real" and "like it was there".

My friend's review (which you'll be glad is significantly shorter than mine) was... "Proper good".

Go and see it if you can.

- review by Iain Key for Cerysmatic Factory

New Dawn Fades is on at the Leadmill in Sheffield 16/17 September and then returns to Jacksons Lane, Highgate, London for a 3-night stint 19-21 September.

More info

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