Review: A Manchester Anthem, VAULT Festival

A brilliantly physical performance from Tom Claxton makes Nick Dawkins’ A Manchester Anthem a real highlight of the 2023 VAULT Festival so far

“Oxford isn’t an interstellar journey away, it’s just…south”

There’s a moment midway through A Manchester Anthem that is so perfectly written (by Nick Dawkins), directed (by Charlie Norburn) and performed (by Tom Claxton) that you feel it is surely destined to become an audition piece for the ages. Deconstructing the politics of the dancefloor and what we reveal about ourselves through the way we dance, it is an ingenious piece of theatre, scathingly funny and insightful too as it peels back the facade of teenage artifice.

Tommy is the one doing the psychoanalysing, a working-class Mancunian lad who has parlayed his scholarship to private school into an offer to read law at Oxford and just before he heads south, he finds himself on an impromptu night out with the other students from his school who are Oxbridge-bound. As lines of coke are chopped out, stories about mummy and daddy swapped and classic house tunes banging out, the scene is set for a raucous night to remember.

As the first in his family to go to uni, the first on his street even, Dawkins is preoccupied with the rupture that comes from moments of life-altering gravity. Through school and his job at a vastly over-priced coffee shop, Tommy is certainly closer to the class divide than most in his life, but it doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile the changes that are to come, the shifts in his relationship to his divorced parents (a dad from whom he’s estranged, a mum whose devotion is beautifully evoked).

Claxton’s confidence as a performer is a delight to behold (he cheekily starts off in his boxers), the abandon that comes in his dancing, the conflicted emotions that play across his face, he’s clearly one to watch. As is Norburn, their direction filling the considerable space of the Cage with a fantastic energy as Tommy’s emotion explode memorably on this vividly described evening. All it needs is a kebab to round things off properly. 

Running time: 60 minutes
A Manchester Anthem is booking at VAULT Festival until 3rd February

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