It is a testament to Freedom Studios that The Mill – City of Dreams was uplifting and inspiring enough to make my friend and I forget our horrendous hangovers and become captivated by the performance. In a flurry of noise and light that should have made our heads pound but instead immersed us in the atmosphere of an old working factory, The Mill beautifully presented the story of a community whose lives were intrinsically connected to the textiles mill that lay at the heart of Bradford.
The Mill – City of Dreams depicts the journey of those who migrated to Bradford to work in the mill and mingle with the city’s inhabitants, following them into old age as the mill slowly declines into abandonment and commercialisation. The performance investigates where our memories are rooted, and questions what happens when the dreams of our youth turn into disillusionment. The notion of journeying through past memories is enhanced by the fact that the audience travel with the characters in promenade style. I found that literally following the story through the deserted mill space was an incredibly effective way of portraying the changing emotions of a once thriving community. The physicality of the work undertaken by the inhabitants of the mill was mirrored by the fact that the audience was not just sitting and absorbing, but actually partaking in the action.
Drummonds Mill would be a fascinating place to visit whether theatre was being staged there or not; it is beautiful in its enormity and rawness, yet despite the immensity of their surroundings, the characters managed not to become lost. Theatre-goers should be grateful that Madani Younis recognised the mill’s potential and utilised the massive space so effectively.
The most striking elements of the piece – perhaps inevitably given the nature of the material and the awe-inducing surroundings – were the lighting and sound. Lumen, who lit the production, and Janek Schaefer, who produced the sound, should be commended for using the enormous space in a way that was epic without detracting from the story. The noise and light overwhelmed the audience, transforming the mill into a place full of life, movement and machinery. Even though there were a few short intervals when it was hard to see the actors (promenade theatre is clearly a medium that favours the tall!) this did not matter when senses were so completely submerged. The actors were moving constantly and entered from every direction, so that even if you lost sight of them for a second, you felt as if you were in the middle of the performance rather than simply a spectator.
The only slight stumbling block in an otherwise seamless production was the way in which the character of Anton – who presented the modern dream of turning the mill into an idealised contemporary hub that seemed to forget its rich past – was so disconnected from the rest of the story. Whilst this detachment served in illustrating how very different contemporary Bradford is in comparison to its past, by the end of the journey I had almost forgotten the salesman spiel which opened the performance, rendering it unexceptional in an otherwise striking piece. The Mill – City of Dreams emphasised the importance of appreciating one’s heritage and how vital it is to bring past memories into the present, but Anton’s unrealistic utopian vision of a ‘city of dreams’ jarred a little too harshly with the ambience of the piece.
The Mill – City of Dreams is an awesome production with an extremely strong cast; exploring and revitalising the past of a city in order to amalgamate it with the present. There is a sense of wanting to claim these memories and ancestry for your own, making it a must-see for all current inhabitants of Bradford. Ultimately, The Mill – City of Dreams is a sensory triumph, immersing the audience in noise and light, and succeeding in the arguably difficult task of living up to the impressive location of the disused mill. If it has the ability to make a couple of students forget the antics of the night before, clearly it’s doing something right.
The Mill – City of Dreams is playing at the Drummonds Mill until 16th April. To book and to find out more, see the website here.