In Haunt

40 years after the iconic band Joy Division released their ground-breaking debut LP Unknown Pleasures, a locally-created stage production titled ‘New Dawn Fades’ is going on the road, kicking off with September 2019 shows at The Dancehouse in Manchester – the city which brought the band together.

Written by Brian Gorman, ‘New Dawn Fades – A Play About Joy Division and Manchester’ explores the stories of a city as well as how four young men from Manchester, Salford and Macclesfield formed a stand-out band of the 1970s punk revolution.

New Dawn Fades Promo

The play was a smash hit ever since its first run at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival in 2013, and is now confirmed as back for 2019 with shows at Manchester’s Dancehouse on 12-14 September (tickets available now), before going on tour. A Crowdfunder has also been launched by the play’s theatre company All Roads Meet, meaning that the public can get behind ‘New Dawn Fades’, the cast and its crew, to help make the tour even bigger – extending this meaningful Manchester story to even more people.

After all, with the haunting lyrics and voice of Ian Curtis, Peter Hook on bass, Bernard Sumner on guitar and drummer Stephen Morris, Joy Division created a sound like no other – and the play itself features live performances of a number of the band’s tracks.

New Dawn Fades Play

 It also tells an alternative social history of Manchester – given force thanks to a dynamic young cast who impressed audiences last year; including Joseph Walsh playing Ian Curtis, Leah Gray-Scaife as Debbie Curtis and Al Donohoe as an enigmatic Tony Wilson. The rest of the band in 2018's edition of the play included Nathaniel McCartney as Bernard Sumner, Matthew Melbourne as Stephen Morris and Bill Bradshaw as Peter Hook.

These actors evocatively emphasize the themes of vulnerability and risk that has characterised much of the city’s creative culture. Joy Division’s frontman Ian Curtis was after all born in Streford in 1956, married Debbie at 19 years old and released Unknown Pleasures aged just 22 before his death at 23.

The show is directed by Sean Mason – who doubles-up to play Martin Hannett and Paul Morley - and Giles Bastow, who is also returning as the colourful character of Rob Gretton, the Joy Division manager. A point worth noting is that Rob Gretton had also worked at Rafters, the much-loved nightclub that previously occupied a part of St. James Buildings on Manchester's Oxford Street (and Joy Division went onto gig there), only a short distance from The Dancehouse itself.

On Stage

It seems fitting then that the play is starting its run here; The Dancehouse offering an atmospheric space, as a historic building that was formerly the Regal Twin Cinemas of the 1930s. Over the course of the month, ‘New Dawn Fades’ will then travel to Sheffield Leadmill (16 and 17 September), followed by its highly-anticipated London visit to Jacksons Lane Theatre in Highgate (19-21 September).

‘New Dawn Fades’ has gained an extensive following over the years, with an atmospheric image emphasized by local writer and artist Brian Gorman’s accompanying graphic novel (see the full HAUNT article on the book here), which is also available to buy. He is certainly no stranger to delving into dark themes and powerful personalities in his work, with other creations including Everyman: The Story Of Patrick McGoohan – The Prisoner and co-writing a 2013 stage version of Blade Runner. He also created and starred in his single-person show ‘One Man Bond: Every Bond Film In 60 Minutes’, for which he won the 2018 Salford Star Award for 'Best Performer'.

‘New Dawn Fades’ also features stunning cast photographs and production shots by esteemed photographer and long-term supporter Shay Rowan, highlighting how the production is a pulling-together of local creativity, so integral to Manchester.

New Dawn Fades Cast

It seems apt therefore that ‘New Dawn Fades’ considers not just the band, but their place within the broader context of Manchester’s diverse cultural history. Whilst ‘Mr Manchester’ Tony Wilson – who signed the band to his Factory Records label, reportedly marking the contract in his own blood – acts as a guide for the production, he introduces an array of historical figures who have shaped the city over time.  This includes the Roman General Julius Agricola, who led the campaign against the Brigantes and whose forces set up a fort in AD 79 (where current-day Castlefield now is) when the area was referred to as Mamucium. Other characters include the likes of the mysterious Dr John Dee, Frederich Engels and Pete Shelley – individuals who certainly were no strangers to the darker side of Manchester over the centuries.

But what about the band? The influence of Joy Division is still widely felt; from their cold and industrial sound as pioneered by Martin Hannett to their distinct visual presence, often preferring darkness and shadow. Many people may recognise the iconic photograph of the band taken on Hulme’s Epping Walk Bridge by Kevin Cummins (recreation with the cast members created by Shay Rowan, below) – the same bridge where HAUNT Manchester’s Editor Emily Oldfield discussed themes of renewal with artist Simon Buckley as part of his Not Quite Light dawn podcast on Reform Radio.

Epping Walk Bridge

Joy Division and Manchester have an entwined history, especially when it comes to considering the grittier angles of the cityscape. Members of the band attended the infamous 1976 Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, and went onto give performances of their own at the likes of the original Factory club in Hulme and The Electric Circus just off Rochdale Road. They also encountered a time of turbulence, experimentation and cultural creation. ‘New Dawn Fades’ recognises this through a gripping show which is not just a play, but an immersive experience. See the website for more details, and get involved.

By Emily Oldfield

Photography with thanks to Shay Rowan

Joy Division Art

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