THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MITCHELL & KENYON
by Daragh Carville.
Coliseum Theatre Fairbottom Street OL1 3SW To 31 May 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 30 May.
Pre-show talk 28 May 6.15pm.
Post-show Discussion 29 May.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 624 2829.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 May.
Fussily told, but a story worth telling.
Over a century ago, Blackburn businessman Sagar Mitchell persuaded local coin-in-slot merchant James Kenyon to join him in a new business opportunity, filming people’s lives. The idea people would pay, in theatres and fairgrounds, to watch ‘film’ (even the word, in this sense, was brand-new) of themselves and others like them pouring out of factory gates, caught on ‘phantom rides’ (the camera filming from an open-top bus) or working was obvious to Mitchell, less so to Kenyon.
It created a profitable fashion for several years. Later, the two went their separate ways, Mitchell storing the stock in milk-churns at his furniture shop.
If a workman clearing the basement in the 1990s had been of a less curious cast of mind, the films might never have been found, or been thrown on the scrap-heap. But he took the film to a local video-store, which showed them to customer Peter Worden – who, with the British Film Institute, restored them, creating an invaluable archive of life in 1900s Lancashire.
People are seen going about their business, playing to the camera or – to the filmmakers’ annoyance – trying to hog the scene. Especially young lads, many of them, as one modern scene reflects, First World War victims cheerily unaware of their short futures.
Thanks to members of Leeds theatre-makers imitating the dog the pair’s films are projected in synchronous montage, or with repeated showings establishing the everyday scenes.
Writer Daragh Carville outlines the story efficiently, but is caught-up in the idea of the men’s lives as a showground attraction. It’s economical, helping three further performers take on several roles each, but enforces a single manner of presentation which can restrict scenes or become wearying.
Gareth Cassidy and Christopher Wright create the productive contrast between the impulsive, flashily-dressed Mitchell and the sober-suited, thoughtfully cautious Kenyon. But Mitchell and Kenyon themselves remain enigmatic, filmmakers whose own portraits aren’t even included in the programme.
In line with this pictorial anonymity, Amy Leach’s production finds its most moving moment when the two actors finally disappear amid projections of the crowds they unwittingly preserved for history to rediscover.
Sagar Mitchell: Gareth Cassidy.
Showman 1/Mrs Kenyon/A D Thomas/BFI Technician: Liam Gerrard
Showman 2/Annie Mitchell/Walter Ronstron/BFI Clerk: Jo Mousley.
Showman 3/Peter Worden/Herman Page: David Westbrook.
James Kenyon: Christopher Wright.
Director: Amy Leach.
Designer: Barney George.
Lighting: Andrew Crofts for imitating the dog.
Video: imitating the dog.
Sound/Music: John Biddle.
The Life and Times of Mitchell & Kenyon is a co-production between The Dukes Lancaster and Oldham Coliseum. First performance at the Dukes Lancaster 19 April 2014. First performance at Oldham Coliseum 15 May 2014.