This is a play that will educate the uninformed and reinforce the knowledgeable on the influential post punk band Joy Division.
Being from Manchester, though too young to appreciate them at the time, it is now obvious to me the influence this band has had on music.
But this is not just a play about a band, it’s also about a city, friendship, love, music, history and death.
The audience is walked through the story by the then local news celebrity and co-founder of Factory Records Tony Wilson, played by Lee Joseph in a ‘less over the top fashion’ than Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People.
They learn the origins of the name Manchester, its key role in the industrial revolution, the influence it had on both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and the impact Thatcher had on the inner city, reshaping it into a high rise-ridden concrete landscape.
From a musical perspective, they learn about the impact the Sex Pistols had on the city’s future music-makers.
Their mid-70s shows in the Free Trade Hall informed the punk ethos that fitted into the youth mind set of the time and ultimately led to some audience members picking up instruments, including four individuals who formed Warsaw which later became Joy Division.
Humour is used well to illustrate that, despite dark lyrics and themes the band attached itself to, these boys were not all tortured souls but friends that laughed at each other and did not take themselves too seriously.
This includes the lead singer and lyrist Ian Curtis, as played by Michael Whittaker, whose voice does the songs justice, especially the acapella parts.
All the actors interpret the essence of each band member, from Stephen Morris’ shyness to Peter Hooks’ in your face attitude and Bernard Sumner aka Barney’s dry wit and get on with it mentality.
Ian Curtis struggles with epilepsy, fame and the love triangle between him, his lover Annik Honore and his wife, gracefully played by Natalie Perry.
At the end Wilson and band members talk about feelings of guilt, as expressed in the song the play takes its title from, though it was a rope, not a ‘loaded gun’, that Curtis used as a permanent solution to his temporary problems in a scene played out respectfully by the lead.
May 18, 1980, marks the date of 23-year-old Curtis’ death and the birth of his immortality as an instrumental part of the UK’s musical landscape.
As the actor playing Wilson said ‘the people of Manchester keep singing, don’t they Barney?’ and the remaining band members certainly did, with the inclusion of Gillian Gilbert, in New Order, which continues to make music today.
The Apex crowds’ standing ovation and continued applause played homage to this funny, informational and touching play.