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Cotton Panic! review – a story of solidarity that deserves better | Musique Non Stop

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cotton Panic! review – a story of solidarity that deserves better

Upper Campfield Market Hall, Manchester
Jane Horrocks stars in a collage of song, history and drama whose most powerful presences are its stage projections

“Can you help me a bit?” A spotlit Jane Horrocks revolves through the space where the audience is standing, hemmed in by three giant screens. She waves her arms. Her white floaty dress floats. It’s a clear case of Kate Bush-itis, but the paramedics are busy reviving audience members who have become faint from standing in the crowded arena of this atmospheric but hot market hall. Horrocks, unhelped, returns to the stage. Here, she is once more spotlit – and backlit, through her flimsy frock – as she sings and dances in front of three male musicians, who appear and disappear, as spotlights determine. The effect is amateurish. It shouldn’t be.

The words deserve better: they echo the pleas of Manchester factory workers suffering appalling hardships in the “cotton panic” of 1861-5, yet still standing in solidarity with the as-yet unfreed slaves of the then disunited states of America. This is the subject of what is billed by Manchester international festival as an “industrial music drama”, but is redefined by a publicist on the eve of press night as “a gig”. It comes across as a collage of songs (folk, pop, blues and hymn) montaged with samples of 1860s texts, presented within a soundtrack of soft-focus industrial synthpop, provided by Wrangler (the trio, including Stephen Mallinder, formerly of Cabaret Voltaire, are credited with co-creation, alongside Horrocks and her partner, writer Nick Vivian; Wils Wilson directs).

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by Clare Brennan via Electronic music | The Guardian