'New Dawn Fades', a play About Joy Division and Manchester has been on my radar since it first appeared on my Facebook feed, thanks to Shay Rowan, a fantastic photographer from the city.

He took the earliest publicity photos and has continued to document the play’s progress and its performances.

The play had its debut at the Greater Manchester Fringe in July 2013. Since then it has played in theatres and upstairs rooms in pubs and toured the North West. In the last month it has also ventured to Bury St. Edmunds and London.

Written by Brian Gorman, produced by Giles Bastow and directed by James Foster, it features a great cast. Lee Joseph as Tony Wilson, Natalie Perry as Deborah Curtis, Michael Whittaker as Ian Curtis, Nathaniel McCartney as Bernard Sumner, Bill Bradshaw as Peter Hook, Matthew Melbourne as Stephen Morris, Giles Bastow as Rob Gretton and Phil Dennison and Sean Mason as everyone else.

The story of Joy Division and Ian Curtis’ suicide is always going to be a poignant one. We all know how it ends. It’s a play for the fans. That can be a double-edged sword, because the bigger the fan, the stronger the connection and no one wants to be disappointed in the depiction of the individuals and the events.

I had been looking forward to seeing this play from first seeing Shay’s publicity photos. I had started to read Deborah Curtis’ ‘Touching From a Distance’ again during the week, just to remind myself of her take on the events.

I wasn’t disappointed by '24-Hour People', book or film. I was completely captivated by 'Control'.

When I arrived at the Leadmill, I suddenly experienced that moment of doubt. Was this going to live up to expectations?

These characters were people who had been part of my past life. I’d worked with some (Rob Gretton, Alan Erasmus). I’d shared a house with Martin Hannett and had known Tony since my mid teens. Impressionable years. Roger Eagle was a friend, mentor and manager. There were other characters in the cast list that I cared about – Dr John Dee, Elizabethan scholar and astrologer and Frederich Engels.

So it goes.

I’ve written about my memory gap around Ian’s death, but I was aware of the early Warsaw appearances, and I’d worked at the Russell Club for Factory. I was unimpressed by the image but interested to know more about them, because I trusted Tony’s taste in music.

I needn’t have worried. From the late start of the play (a hitch I hope wasn’t repeated on the Saturday night) I was immersed in an exploration of Manchester and its history, even featuring Julius Agricola and its Roman beginnings. Using Tony Wilson’s Granada Reports television journalist persona, this quirky approach to the history of Manchester and Salford (separate cities) was great for someone like me who knows the history of the city and entertaining for those who don’t. Macclesfield was thrown into the mix through Ian’s growing up and then married life with Debbie.

Imaginatively staged, we were taken through key incidents in the early days of the band. There was a lot of banter and some mickey taking, especially around Paul Morley. The first half ended with a great musical performance from the cast, and was unexpectedly convincing.

The mood changed in the second half as we saw the disintegration of Ian’s health and emotional life, running in parallel with the growing success of the band. It was an intense and totally convincing performance from Michael Whittaker, with Natalie Perry’s role as Debbie carrying the confusion as events and Ian’s epilepsy started to break down their life together.

The musical performances were powerful and convincing. It was easy to forget these were actors in a play. There was a sense that they were exploring their potential together and finding it. As a cast that’s what has happened during the development and touring of the play, and it spilled over into their depiction of the members of Joy Division and the important people in their lives.

The play builds to its inevitable and tragic close. 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' does just that.

There was a full house on Friday night and I know they had a good night on Saturday. This is the end of the run for the play for the time being. Because of the nature of the acting business it’s unlikely that this cast will be able get together again if there’s a tour in the future. It’s a shame because they worked so well together.This is a fantastic play and a very moving way of telling this particular story. If it means something to you, don’t miss it when it comes round again. If you need to convince friends or family about why this band and this time were important, buy them a ticket.

I really hope this will reach a wider audience and tour once more, but for now I’m so pleased I eventually got to experience it.

As 2016 moves on and we lose musicians who mean so much to us, it set me thinking about mortality and legacy, what lasts and what is lost. I was caught up in some of the events depicted in the play. I knew some of the players. As images of those who had passed, Rob Gretton, Ian, Tony and Martin flashed up on the screen at the end of the play I felt close to tears. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Photos by Shay Rowan















Related Links:

http://www.joydiv.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joy_Division
https://www.facebook.com/JoyDivisionOfficial


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