Rowdiness returns to Manchester’s theatreland
Plus: the story behind a 1972 photo from Moss Side
Dear readers — welcome to this week’s briefing. For the second time this year, a show at the Palace Theatre was disrupted by drunken rowdiness this weekend. Or was it? The person who first flagged the disturbance has now removed his Reddit post, saying the media has misreported what happened, and some are saying the issue came down to a lack of legroom. The building is over 130 years old and people in the late-Victorian era were generally not as tall as they are nowadays. We unpick this globally significant story below.
On top of that, we have Andy Burnham’s thoughts on the King’s estate profiting from the deaths of thousands of people in the North West; a wonderful story by Dave Haslam on the background to an iconic Moss Side photo; and it’s Lancashire Day today, an occasion which always rouses fierce passions in the local Facebook groups of Bolton and Wigan. Have you hung your red rose flag out of the window?
Before we get into all that, a very warm welcome to our dozens of new members who have joined in the past few days. Last week we said we were struggling to hit our growth target for the month (we always aim to welcome 100 new members per month). And that was true until Friday when our investigation into how housing for the most vulnerable people in society became a “lucrative opportunity” for property investors (“This sort of reporting is why I subscribe to The Mill,” commented Mary Gibbs) resulted in a burst of newly paid Millers. Then lots more joined this weekend, and the result is that we’re now just a handful of new members away from hitting our target.
Thanks to our new member Vanessa Yates, who tweeted:
Great local journalism - fascinating stories, well researched and balanced. After months of reading a selection of articles free I’ve decided to subscribe to this small, dedicated team.
If you’re not a member yet, please do follow Vanessa’s lead and hit that button below.
Over the weekend, we published a great piece by Ella Robinson, who was a wonderful intern for us earlier this year. She wrote about St Anselm Hall — known as Slems — the curious halls of residence at the University of Manchester that is decidedly stuck in the past. “I expected this story to be about a weird and antiquated world that somehow still survives in modern Manchester,” Ella writes. “But it might be more productive to ask why it has survived — and whether the tradition and supportiveness of a place like this might actually be something people yearn for in the crazy, anxious and sometimes scary experience of student life.”
In case you missed it, last week we also published a fantastic feature by our culture writer Sophie Atkinson about the 1930 novel, Out of the Window, by Madeline Linford. “Unlike novels exploring marriage I'd read before,” says Sophie, “the engine powering the narrative was class: specifically, what a class divide might have meant in a relationship in 1920s Manchester.”
Coming up this week, we have a (members-only) editor’s edition by Joshi, in which he reports on the rising financial pressures facing local councils because of the costs of social care, discusses Greater Manchester’s future with a leading economist, and wonders which Manchester neighbourhood is going to gentrify next. And then, Mollie will take you inside THG, the online retail giant formerly known as The Hut Group, as its young staff tackle Black Friday and the challenges of growing one of the North’s most high-profile tech companies. If you work there, please get in touch.
🌤️ This week’s weather
Our local weatherman Martin Miles says we can hopefully enjoy plenty of dry and sunny weather this week, as long as you wrap up warm — it’s getting colder.
Tuesday 🌤️ Dry and mostly sunny. Feeling cold. Max 6°C.
Wednesday 🌤️ Cold and predominantly dry with sunny spells. Odd wintry shower. Max 4°C.
Thursday 🌦️ Breezy and cold with occasional wintry showers. Max 4°C.
Friday 🌤️ Mostly dry with sunny spells but still feeling cold. Max 4°C.
Weekend 🌦️ Remaining cold with an ongoing risk of wintry showers.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: Rowdiness returns to Manchester’s theatreland
Top line: Police are investigating a fight that reportedly broke out during a performance of Hamilton at the Palace Theatre on Oxford Street. It’s the second time this year that things have turned rowdy at the Palace.
Context: Hamilton, the global musical phenomenon, started its nationwide tour in Manchester earlier this month. At Friday night’s performance, there was an altercation between two audience members. Police were called to a report of an assault at 10:30pm, which would have been after the curtain had fallen.
There have been a number of reports online from people who were at the show on the night. One said that the performance was “smooth” and they had hardly noticed anything untowards. But others said of the two apparent combatants “staff were desperately trying to keep them apart.” There is some disagreement on whether the altercation occurred during the performance.
One of the first to flag the disturbance has since deleted their Reddit post about it, saying the incident had been misrepresented in the tabloids and that the show wasn’t disrupted by police. Others have wondered whether the lack of legroom at the Palace is enough to whip people into these frenzies, either via discomfort or the person behind them kneeing them in the back of the head every time they readjust.
So what is causing this? Many have pointed to the amount of alcohol being sold throughout performances at the Palace, and most theatres nowadays, as contributing to the disorder. As Joshi pointed out in an editor’s edition in April — after a performance of The Bodyguard was brought to a premature end by off-pitch warbling from audience members, terminating in a “mini-riot” — the procedure to buy a ticket to a production at the Palace is spangled with opportunities to add pre-show bottles of prosecco and other alcoholic beverages.
And it’s not just evening performances where booze is being pushed, apparently. When we tweeted about this, longtime Miller Pete Liggins told us about booking tickets to an 11am performance of Winnie the Pooh for him and his child at the Opera House and being offered several deals to pre-pay for drinks. “Plus they advertised the ‘at seat’ drinks service too!” 11am! Winnie the Pooh!
So it’s not that audiences are throwing away their shots, they’re just throwing too many back. And it’s not exclusive to Manchester. A 2023 report by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union found a theme of theatre staff being abused by drunken guests.
Nearly a third of staff polled either saw or were involved in incidents that required police intervention, with 20% having feared for their safety.
90% of respondents felt that guests arriving to theatres already drunk were contributing to worse behaviour.
Bottom line: GMP have said that no arrests have been made and an investigation into the events of Friday evening is still ongoing. They say that injuries sustained are not thought to be life-threatening, and are urging anyone with more information to get in touch.
Your Mill briefing
🤴 Last week, the Guardian revealed that King Charles is “profiting from the deaths of thousands of people in the north-west of England” by collecting the assets of those who die without having made a will or any next of kin. The Duchy of Lancaster, which covers areas of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, has collected more than £60m of bona vacantia in recent years, secretly using the money to renovate properties in the king’s commercial portfolio. Andy Burnham has called for a public consultation, calling the practice “a bizarre remnant of feudal Britain”.
🇵🇸 Three Tory councillors have been suspended from their ward in Oldham for attending the pro-Palestine march on Armistice Day in London. Kamran Ghafoor, Muhammad Irfan and Abdul Wahid — who represented Hollinwood — are being investigated by the Conservative party, over “alleged incidents during and after the march”. It means the Conservatives are no longer the official opposition in the borough.
🚨 There was a double-stabbing in the Northern Quarter yesterday morning. The MEN reports that a police cordon remained up on Swan Street into the late afternoon, with people watching on as they ate brunch.
🌹 Finally, today is Lancashire Day. The county was established in 1182 and encompassed what is now Greater Manchester and Merseyside (turned into metropolitan counties in 1974). Earlier this year, we reported on the campaign taking hold in places like Bolton, which seeks to return parts of Greater Manchester to their Lancashire roots: 'I'm from Lancashire, not Greater Manchester': An old question of identity rears its head again. It is not known if King Charles, the beneficiary of the region’s bona vacantia funds, has issued his congratulations.
❤️ Before we go, a few shout-outs to local people and organisations:
Mustard Tree, the homelessness charity, where all donations will be doubled for the next week, starting tomorrow.
Faisal Ali, whose excellent painting and decorating company helped us out at the office recently, is available for jobs.
Manchester Baroque, who still have lots of tickets for their performance of Handel’s Messiah at the cathedral next Saturday — get 20% off with our special link.
Home of the week
This three bedroom cottage is set in the tranquil Bolton countryside and features many original period features, an open plan living room and dining room and stunning views. It’s on the market for £329,999.
Our favourite reads
A brilliant photograph, Moss Side 1972 — Dave Haslam’s Substack
When he first saw a black-and-white photo of two rockers from Moss Side, dressed in denim and zip-up boots and gazing sullenly at the camera, Manchester writer Dave Haslam was obsessed. After decades, he finally tracked one of them down and told his life story. “I’m not into conspiracy theories but I do think that there was an element of purpose, an experiment in social engineering,” Ped, a man now in his late 60s, told Haslam. “The sheer working classness of the area, the black community, the Irish; they broke us up. We were a strong community.”
Deep uni posturing — The TLS
We enjoyed this review of Lars Iyer’s new novel My Weil, which centres on a group of students in the philosophy department at a fictional Manchester university, who believe the end is nigh and are too busy day drinking to focus on their dissertations. Meanwhile, the business studies students fastidiously go about their assignments. “Where’s their doom? Where’s their crushedness? Their diseases of the soul?” the narrator complains.
Watching People Watch a Game. With 100,000 Friends — The New York Times
Inside a subterranean studio in the Northern Quarter, two Manchester United fans broadcast their reactions to major games on a livestream that reaches more than 100,000 fans. Many football fans are turning to similar “watchalong” streaming parties instead of major broadcasters like Sky Sports and BBC Sport, preferring the updates about how their football team is faring to be delivered by a “dyed in the wool” fan rather than “compromised and biased mouthpieces of the mainstream media”.
Our to do list
📚 This intimate event at HOME describes itself as a celebration at the intersection of literature and film. You’ll get to hear from Paul Lynch, winner of the 2023 Booker Prize, who will be giving an in-depth discussion of his works, plus see a special screening of German director Ulrich Köhler’s film In My Room, chosen to reflect and enhance themes within Lynch’s book Prophet Song. Tickets here.
🎭 The Lowry is showing a contemporary dance production of Tim Burton’s stirring fantasy film Edward Scissorhands. Tickets here.
🌿 Ardwick Climate Action are giving a talk at Manchester Museum on how they’ve rewilded their local green spaces in the hopes of inspiring more community climate action. It’s free to attend.
❄️ There’s a vibrant musical retelling of the classic tale of The Snow Queen at Waterside Arts in Sale, ideal for a midweek family outing. Tickets here.
🎤 The Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society is hosting an in-depth discussion on themes of belonging, integration and nostalgia within the Chinese diaspora in Britain. Tickets are £15 for non-members.
🍸 Sterling Bar, a subterranean cocktail bar underneath the striking Stock Exchange Hotel on Norfolk Street, presents a perfect opportunity to escape the chaos of Christmas shopping and retreat for a fancy cocktail and bar snacks. We recommend the oysters and negronis. More here.