A wooly hat and scarf is not the usual requirement for a theatre critic but the stunning new production by Bradford’s Freedom Studios is set in a derelict mill.
‘Writers Madani Younis and Jonathan Holmes cleverly reject any cloying sentimentality about the dignity of labour, focusing instead on the camaraderie created in a close knit workforce surviving in a tough and unrelenting industry’
‘The Mill - City of Dreams’ uses the haunting open spaces of the abandoned Drummonds Mill in the Manningham district of the city to tell the tale of immigrant workers who came to Britain to find work in the once thriving cloth trade.
The show starts with an oily salesman trying to sell the audience his bogus dream of inner city apartments before we are joined by ghostly nightwatchman Frank, who spent his life working here and invites us to meet the ghosts of the former workers who inhabit the mill.
As the doors to the mill open, your senses are assailed by the ear-bursting noise of the huge looms that once were there before being thrown into a beautifully-staged section showing the journeys of various migrant workers to West Yorkshire.
As the audience wanders from room to room in this huge building we gradually meet an aspiring engineer from Pakistan, a displaced Ukrainian who survived the horrors of the Nazi occupation and a naive Italian girl who speaks no English.
Their stories are based on extensive interviews with former mill workers and form the backbone of our journey around a truly awe inspiring space. Along the way we see how their dreams often crumbled to dust and witness the struggles of second generation youth trying to find a place in the country they were born in.
Writers Madani Younis and Jonathan Holmes cleverly reject any cloying sentimentality about the dignity of labour, focusing instead on the camaraderie created in a close knit workforce surviving in a tough and unrelenting industry. For those of us who have worked in heavy industry, the dialogue rings true.
It’s not unrelenting gloom though, as the touching unrequited love between Frank and Maria and a very funny sequence as workers pose for awkward pictures to send home offer a bit of light amid the shade.
It would be wrong to pick out any single cast member, as they all capture the fear of coming to a new country, and despite the monotony of mill work, the play shows how close bonds were formed across cultures through shared experiences in that hellhole.
When working class communities are under attack and the idea of multi-culturism is being undermined, this is a timely work. ‘The Mill - City of Dreams’ gives us context for the rich cultural diversity of Bradford and remands us what a debt we owe to those people who travelled thousands of miles to find their fortunes - or otherwise.
This is a journey that you would be fool to miss as it’s a brilliantly staged reminder of the huge contributions by people from a lost world that will never return to this city.