Contact and Derby Theatre presents a striking representation of struggle and hope in a forgotten-about, working-class town in Northern England.

This Town is performed by the playwright Rory Aaron, and Kate Ireland, and directed by Cheryl Martin. It is showing at Contact, Manchester, a venue that champions young people aged 13-30 from the staff to the artistic director and board. 

This Town is billed as an epic poem, chronicling the lives and stories of people growing up in a small northern town. It remains generic, unspecific in its location, likely so it remains relatable on whatever stage it’s performed on. We follow an eclectic cast of characters, with Aaron and Ireland skilfully multi-roling throughout, as they cope with the class divide, loss, and PTSD. 

The shining star of the piece was the interpretation of a PTSD flashback. Writer and performer Aaron as Dean, the central character who returns to his hometown after a period spent away, experiences a flashback with Ireland behind him manipulating his body and covering his mouth and face. The result is a distressing, heart-thumpingly dynamic sequence, amplified by low, red, flashing lights and Blythe

Pepino’s gorgeous score, that left me on the edge of my seat. Another standout moment was Ireland’s monologue as the landlady of the worn-down local pub. What begins as a story of how she and her husband met and fell in love becomes a tragedy of a woman surviving and supporting her partner with Alzheimer’s. Ireland’s moving delivery and the moments of stillness in what is largely a play that pulses with movement is a breath of fresh air. 

The stillness was broken by Aaron and Ireland breaking out into dance: first to “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, then “Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms”, which, whilst many productions use moments like this as a simple way to transition between scenes, here it fits with the poetry of the piece. Much of the play is spoken in rhyming couplets, a steady pulse running throughout, but some of the shared rhymes seemed to be missed by the performers, particularly early on in the piece. It’s slightly jarring, but not enough to dampen the effect of the play as a whole. 

Where many writers would use this opportunity to lament the structural decline of working-class areas, Rory Aaron uses This Town to tell the stories of the people left behind. With only two performers, we manage to see the scope and variety of its residents, their history, and their presence. If tickets are still available, it is an unmissable hour of theatre.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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