New Dawn Fades – A play about ‘Joy Division’ : review

New Dawn FadesNew Dawn Fades – A play about ‘Joy Division’ by Brian Gorman 

City Varieties, Leeds, 19th April 2016,

Review

 

 

A bit of a surreal night for me sitting in the City Varieties theatre in Leeds where ‘The Good Old Days’ was recorded for TV many moons ago.  Now here I am listening to the Sex Pistols and other old school punk to help get in the mood for a tragic story about a group of kids with a passion for music, intertwined with a dream, a love interest, an intensity of life and death with a touch of darkness and eventual heartbreak for all.

The music stops, the lights go dim and suddenly… there is the late great Tony Wilson (Lee Joseph) with the familiar dark overcoat and scarf, introducing the audience to the industrial northern working class city of Manchester in the gloomy 1970’s, with a brief history from various historical figures of how the city became the great place it is, post punk.  It all happened one night when 4 young men from Macclesfield and Salford witnessed that significant Sex Pistols gig that changed everything in the city that night at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976.  The band all taking on board the ethos of DIY Punk and ‘if the Pistols and Buzzcocks  can do it… so can we’.. and they did!  

The play works its way through a timeline from the early 1970’s, narrated by the Granada reporter Tony Wilson of how he, Rob Gretton, (the bands manager) and the continuous efforts of the band, tried to record a single and play various gigs up and down the country.  They eventually fell into the hands of what can only be described as the genius that is, producer Martin Hannet who experimented with a new sound on their songs and went on to produce the bands exceptional ‘Unknown Pleasures’ and ‘Closer’, two of the best albums ever made, and is the stuff punk rock is made off, but creatively speaking is only in too short of supply these days.  A live performance of ‘Shadow play’ from the young actors followed with the deep baritone voice of Michael Whittaker (as Curtis) bellowing out the dark self confessing melancholy lyrics of Ian Curtis.  He stood awkwardly in front of the microphone stand as Curtis did with what looked like an out of body experience with robotic, epileptic dance movements singing……

“To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you,
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you,
I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you,
In a room with a window in the corner I found truth.

In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more,
As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor,
And with cold steel, odour on their bodies made a move to connect,
But I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left.

I did everything, everything I wanted to,
I let them use you for their own ends,
To the centre of the city in the night, waiting for you”

Here was a tormented man before us, whose life was curtailed by medication, epilepsy (which Debbie helps educate the audience about) seizures, depression, guilt, isolation and eventual suicide that brings about the demise of one of the most influential bands of the 21st century on the eve of their first American tour.

No-one knows what went through the mind of Ian Curtis that night or the months before.  I heard an interview with Peter Hook who said innocently, they didn’t even know what his lyrics were about until it was all too late…. and why would they?  They were young, out for a laugh and as long as they had lyrics from Ian they had a song, with everyone just focusing on their own bit.

The band played on, singing us his feelings in Love will tear us Apart…..

“When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won’t grow,
And we’re changing our ways,
Taking different roads.

Then love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

Why is the bedroom so cold?
You’ve turned away on your side.
Is my timing that flawed?
Our respect runs so dry.
Yet there’s still this appeal
That we’ve kept through our lives.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

You cry out in your sleep All my failings exposed.
And there’s a taste in my mouth,
As desperation takes hold.
Just that something so good
Just can’t function no more.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again”

The lyrics read all too easy now, but a deep thinker like Curtis will inevitably have a heightened sense of fear, love, failure and disappointment, along with drugs and self deprecation thrown in.  Watching Whittaker’s performance of Ian Curtis, I felt his excruciating pain, with lyrics that must have haunted him in his final moments of isolation and despair crying out for some kind of solace.

 

The theatre goes silent when the news breaks of Ian’s suicide, Tony Wilson recoils from trying to make out ‘he really didn’t mean the things he said’ when recalling the overdose Ian had taken before, only to sadly admit ‘he really did mean it’.  I can’t even start to imagine the heartbreaking hurt and pain Debbie must have suffered with the ending of their relationship being so tragic, with a one year old daughter who will only know her father by records, lyrics, iconic photographs, books, film, play and stories from her mother and the band.

The Manager Rob Gretton brings us back to reality and tells the band ‘to get on with it’ and as we know…. New Order takes the stage with Bernard Sumner stepping forward on vocals and another new electronic sound is created.

For me this play helped expose some of the demons the young 23 year old Ian Curtis had to deal with, whilst coming to terms with his illness, suppress his feelings from everyone around him, trying to hold down an normal job and living out domesticity with Deborah and his daughter, only to take his life as an escape from those demon’s, which became a self professing prophesy.  We all know now he was suffering when left to his own thoughts, but like in a reality show I wanted those around him to act out some sort of intervention which on hindsight of course was impossible.

In the final act, Ian is remembered and loved by the remaining members of the band.  Tony, Rob and Deborah think of him as a unique, slightly eccentric, funny, but at the same time ordinary bloke.

The music plays to a crescendo over a black and white photograph of an ever youthful Ian Curtis.  He will be forever in the hearts of all of those who journeyed with Warsaw, Joy Division and New Order during those early days and his songs will always touch that place inside you where pain and heartache can sometimes heavily lurk.

As I slowly drove back to suburbia feeling slightly melancholy about the play and the tragedy of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, I thought of how young lives can so easily be trampled and crushed by negative thoughts, how love can tear people apart and shatter their dreams, but also how the survivors thrive in the face of adversity.

I push play……… ‘dance dance dance dance dance to the radio…….

If you get the chance, go see the play and transport yourself back to a time when a new band, sound and story changed our lives.

Categories

Featured Music Reviews

The Author

Words by

Share and comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Your Tickets At Skiddle

To buy tickets for our events please visit: Skiddle.

Tickets by Skiddle