The exam board this morning went very smoothly and afterwards Richard gave me a quick guided tour of the facilities in Carlisle. The campus is on the site of an old arts college and still retains some of the feel, particularly in the way creative departments work together. It's an impressive place and I'm going to enjoy my bi-annual trips to Cumbria see how they work.
After lunch I headed South to Manchester, where I'm attending the HE Academy annual conference. I did my PGCE in the city and, for four summers in the early nineties, ran the now defunct Manchester Youth Theatre's summer courses, alongside the benevolent, if occasionally inebriated, Geoff and Hazel Sykes. Geoff died in 1998 and the last time I was in the city was to speak at his memorial service. I learnt more in the few years I was in the North than I have before or since, but I also knew at the time that Geoff was the last of the old school of educationalists who worked with an unchecked mixture of terror and inspiration. His passion for theatre and for championing anybody who was prepared to graft knew no bounds, but woe betide you if you were lazy, pretentious or unreliable - unreconstructed it was, dignity in the work place it was not. The MYT did produce some top actors and directors though: Mike Leigh, Lesley Sharp, David Threfell and Lyndsey Marshall to name but a few.
So this afternoon, in temperatures and sunshine, that were at odds with my remembrance of the North West, it was exciting to reconnect with the city's changed centre. I found it incredibly nostalgic, but also inspiring to see the speed of redevelopment. There are familiar landmarks - the beautiful curve of library walk, the peace statue of a fat faced woman feeding pigeons next to the town hall, the plaque on the Free Trade Hall remembering the Peterloo massacre, the Chinese Arch, the eclectic emporium that is Afflecks Palace and the ever fabulous Cornerhouse ... but some things are no more. The anarchist bookshop off Piccadilly gardens has been swamped by posher shops, as has the football fanzine shop in St.Ann's, the city centre Odeon has disappeared and the iconic Hacienda, where all things seem to begin, is now a block of plush apartments.
Met up with Vixter this evening who's up working on Prima Donna, Rufus Wainwright's opera teching into the Palace as part of the Manchester Festival. We sat and chatted on the re lit canal by Deansgate station, an area that ten years ago represented the fringes of the 'safe' centre. You didn't come this way unless you were with somebody who knew the score. Chip butties, cheap pills and fights replaced by pear cider over ice, rocket salads and the neon glow of a city rediscovering it's commercial excellence.
Review – The Exorcist, Phoenix Theatre
7 hours ago