The Mill: City of Dreams, Drummonds Mill, Bradford, review
This beautifully presented promenade piece in a vast Victorian mill building asks, pertinently, where this country is going next. Rating: * * * *
We are inside Drummonds, a vast derelict Victorian mill building in the Manningham district of Bradford, all cracked paintwork, concrete floors, overhead piping, rough-repaired roof-windows and fading signs. A smarmy businessman with slicked-back hair is outlining fancy regeneration plans for the place when suddenly all the lights fail. Into view, shining a torch into our faces, shuffles the building’s ageing caretaker (played by Geoff Leesley). He invites us to head off with him into the closed-off areas beyond.
What follows, co-written and directed by Madani Younis and Omar Elerian and mixing professional actors with a community cast, seizes on the eerie atmosphere of this former yarn-processing powerhouse to deliver a succession of ghostly encounters. The huge downstairs weaving-room where workers once toiled at deafening looms – a bone-shaking blast of which we get as we move into the darkened space – has become a landscape of shadows and apparitions. A series of whirling vignettes conjure the migration paths of some of Drummonds’ post-war employees: one minute, we are in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, then destitute Fifties Italy, and then Pakistan of the Sixties.
As we move on, these sample immigrant communities yield three individual stories, and between them Gergo Danka’s Petro, Raffaella Gardon’s Maria and Gabeen Khan’s Yakub convey the vulnerability, aspiration and disappointment of new arrivals who must make do and mend in a town that can’t quite match their dreams.
Whether they’re answering the imperious questions of a frosty female boss in a room lined with packing cases or, in Maria’s case, participating in a haunting, almost balletic simulation of the “burning and mending process”, you get a keen sense of what it must be like to pitch up in northern England with few language skills to trade on and every need to fit in.
Although draped in an elegiac appreciation of days gone by, which sharpens as the story-threads wind towards the firm’s closure in 2002, and is beautifully presented throughout, this promenade show is far more than a nostalgic exercise. It asks, pertinently, where this country is going next. At salient points, the evening shuttles to the present, and we see the workers’ descendants, aimless and adrift in Asian snooker halls. For all its hardship, work at Drummonds offered a cross-cultural kinship.