Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Masque of Anarchy

Manchester International Festival is in full swing, I did try to get tickets for Kenneth Branagh's "Macbeth" but I was in hospital when they went on sale, so I wasn't successful. I was luckier in getting hold of tickets to see Maxine Peake perform "The Masque of Anarchy" and I am so glad I did.
The poem was penned by Percy Shelly in response to the Peterloo Massacre, the events in 1819 where the militia charged on a peaceful gathering in Peter's Field, Manchester. The crowd of over 60,000, listening to calls for democratic reform, were charged upon by Hussars on horse back after the local yeomanry had tried to arrest the speakers. Fifteen men, women and children died and many more were injured. Shelly was in Italy when he heard of the appalling events and, outraged, he wrote the response that was banned from being published for twelve years.
The recital of the poem by Maxine Peake took place in the Albert Hall, very close to the site of the massacre. Above a bar area, currently being renovated, is an old Methodist chapel which has been closed to the public since 1969. Hundreds of candles flickered as Peake took to the platform in a ghostly white dress.
The recital was mesmeric, Peake perfectly captured the outrage, the pathos and the hope the poem brings. The final lines...

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number-
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many - they are few'

..echo across the centuries and are as fresh today as they were in 1819. It was a truly spine-tingling night and I felt privileged to have been there.

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