5 minute read


❝How people can achieve a beautiful piece of work in a relatively short space of time. How much a group that looks so diverse on paper can get together and create an event as memorable as this event was.

Peterloo Laurel


It was felt important that the day of the 200th anniversary of Peterloo should be marked in a significant way. Manchester City Council commissioned Manchester Histories in partnership with Brighter Sound and Walk the Plank to work with artists and local people to develop an outdoor artistic production honouring the day the Peterloo Massacre took place. The partnership was further supported by funding from Arts Council England. Manchester Histories led the co-ordination and promotion of ‘From the Crowd’.

Creative Director Evie Manning (Common Wealth Theatre) developed the innovative concept of turning the crowd into the performers, which was further brought to life by the creative team through set design, costume, lighting and the use of digital screens so they would be supported in reciting and responding to a ‘crowd sourced’ script. Music Director Robin Richards (Dutch Uncles) created a series of musical commissions and accompaniments which helped to direct the mood and tempo of the crowds and performers, as well as echo the content of the historic and contemporary campaigns of the script. 91 volunteer performers were recruited, who took on the persona of ‘The Laurels’. Echoing the group leaders of protestors marching into Manchester, The Laurels guided sections of the crowd in their participation, carrying staffs of laurel leaves, just as the march leaders had worn laurel leaves on the day.

A section of the day entitled ‘Rebel Karaoke’ provided a platform for hundreds of people to take to the stage outside Manchester Central to perform. These included Streetwise Opera and Commoners Choirs, performer poets and artists such as Aziz Ibrahim and Cheetham Hill Poet. At 1.30pm, the time of the massacre 200 years ago, a poignant moment was marked by a powerful poem written and performed by one of the city's most exciting up-and-coming poets, Jardel Rodrigues. His piece introduced the ‘Reading of the Names’ of the dead and a digital screen takeover across the city centre at 1.30 pm to help to amplify the moment. Those invited to take part in this solemn and moving part of the event included, film directors Danny Boyle and Mike Leigh, Peterloo Ambassadors, the Mayor of Manchester, representatives of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign Group and several Peterloo descendants including one whose relative died in the massacre and another who travelled from USA to take part. ‘From the Crowd’ was an ambitious project, with partners and artists testing out new formats for engagement and artistically commemorating historical moments. Reactions from audiences and participants were emotive, positive, communal, active and hopeful. The event inspired people to be more active politically, socially and environmentally. It changed people’s opinions, reducing judgement and increasing empathy.

❝It was very beautiful to see a kind of commemoration that was not just something that you stood and watched but where people were encouraged to join in, to speak parts of it. There was a great spokenword guy - Jardel Rodregues, he was excellent, really good. And there was a girl, Olivia [McFadden] who read one of the names and at the mayor’s speeches. She did a story of a woman, who her and her child were killed, and she was brilliant - absolutely brilliant. It was a privilege to be part of it and to read one of the names. I read the name of Joseph Whitworth from Hyde who was 19 and was shot by infantry at New Cross on August the 18th...

Danny Boyle Participant in the Reading of the Names, Film Director and Patron of HoME in an interview with the Manchester Evening News

Participants felt they were genuinely valued. They made new friends, learned new skills, and are keen to volunteer more in the future. ‘From the Crowd’ was also a project of divides and was not to everyone’s taste. Though the negative voices were strong, they were in the minority. Some who had joined or attended with an interest in history felt it was not historical enough, though most saw the subtleties and nuances of the historical references, appreciating the connection with contemporary issues locally and globally.

FROM THE CROWD (continued)

Lead Artists: Evie Manning – Creative Director Robin Richards – Lead Composer Brendan Williams – Composer

Katie Chatburn – Composer

MC Zani & The Beatbox Collective

Oliver Vibrans – Composer

Maria Álvarez – Digital Screens

Elisa Morais – Digital Screens

Lae Carbon-Wilson – Assistant Director

Roma Havers – Script Editor Script: ‘From the Crowd’ script written by and with Mia Purtill, Monument to Discrimination Group, Mark Todd, Dennis Queen, Ali Briggs, These Walls Must Fall, Greater Manchester Housing Action, The Public Meeting, Kate Feld, Invisible Cities, Danny Collins, Alec Lopez, Giovanni Bagioli, Pat Clinton, Young Identity and Eyewitness Accounts from Peterloo compiled by the Peterloo Ambassadors.

Digital Screens: Sois de Traca filmmaker’s collective, North West Film Archive Greenaway & Greenaway

❝What surprised me was how much fun the rehearsal process can be. What an opportunity performance can provide for meeting new people. How rewarding taking part in a big event can be. How much effort an organisation is involved in holding such a varied and large scale event. What considerations need to be made when dealing with large groups of the public with a whole range of backgrounds and opinions. How determined the public are to attend important events like this despite the terrible weather! How moving it can be to see people working together with the same aim. How authentically issues were represented (produced and spoken by members of various different groups).


❝The project has inspired people to find out more about Peterloo; volunteer more / again; join a political party; cherish the memory; research their family background; continue new found friendships; participate in more history / arts activities; campaign; see current issues in a longer historical / political context; learning British Sign Language; have better resources for teaching Peterloo in school; collaborate more.

Sally Fort Evaluation Consultant for ‘From the Crowd’