“Where were you on June 15th 1996, when the bomb went off?”
It’s a question etched into most Mancunian’s minds and this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the 1996 Manchester bombing. That fateful day when the Provisional IRA detonated a 1500kg truck bomb on Corporation Street, in the heart of our city centre on a busy Saturday. It was the biggest bomb blast in Great Britain since World War II, damaging many landmark buildings and reducing others to rubble, it injured 212 people.
Now, ANU Productions and Manchester’s newest theatre HOME collaborate to stage On Corporation Street, a thoughtful and deeply engaging performance which propels the audience through a series of meetings with those affected by the bombing on June 15th 1996. These are real Mancunian stories, framed by shards of glass and the image of the one red postbox left standing amid the entire devastation.
Taking our seats in HOME’s darkened theatre, that lorry is on the stage – reddish orange front cab and the hazard lights flashing. Individual characters enter and the ensemble move slowly – their voices drowned out by the deafening, reverberating noise. An emergency siren disrupts the performance and we are all evacuated from the theatre – stepping into the backstage area we are invited to meet those affected by the blast.
It’s a powerful theatrical work of art – watching a film documenting the effects of the blast on our city we are abruptly interrupted by one of the bombers who, sharpening our senses to his motivations behind the act of terror, ushers us along a stark brick corridor. More highly personal encounters follow – a young 18-year-old shop worker recalls his experience on returning from the basement of the department store, eyes wide and tearful. We are shifted up in a lift to meet a Northern Irish nurse, angry and fearful, feeling ashamed of her accent and a frustrated business owner who is waiting to get the keys back to her shop.
Throughout our journey within the performance space, we can hear noises which serve to disorientate us further – snippets of news relevant to Euro 96, music and arguing. It all serves to create a fully immersive and interactive environment, unsure of who we will encounter next.
At the close of the performance, we are regurgitated back out on to Whitworth St West with a proud 2016 Manchester skyline welcoming us. Fabulous old architecture punctuated with the new and with Beetham Tower staring impressively down on us, it is incredible and hopeful to see how much our city has healed since the bombing on 15th June 1996.