Angels with Manky Faces

Here is the first fight scene from Angels with Manky Faces, shot by Paul Cliff in Angel Meadow, Manchester. This scene comes early in the first act, and shows the Bengal Tigers (played by members of MaD Theatre Company) scuttling the Meadow Lads (played by Robbie Ashworth and Jamie Duffy of MaD, and junior supporters of FC United of Manchester). The Bengal Tigers win the fight, but they struggle to knock out the leader of the Meadow Lads, Alf Armstrong. The film is set to an instrumental by the Stone Roses. Paul describes this film as his Harold Lloyd moment!

The second fight, which brings the play to the closing scene, is very different in tone. It begins with footage of the Meadow Lads. The Bengal Tigers are on stage for the first half of this film, geeing each other up for battle. As the soundtrack builds they wrap their belts around their fists, brandish their knives, and scream “COME ON!” at the front rows of the audience. The Bengal Tigers dash off stage as their characters appear on screen. The song used here is “Last night I dreamed that somebody loved me,” by The Smiths:

On Thursday 15 July, 2010, Manchester’s renowned MaD Theatre Company will be performing the play Angels with Manky Faces, an original production inspired by Andrew Davies’s book The Gangs of Manchester. For further details, see the Dancehouse theatre website.

5 November 2009

If you want to see one of the last ever performances of Angels, come along to the Dancehouse theatre, Manchester (opposite the BBC on Oxford Road) this Sunday, 8 November. There are two shows, at 3 pm and 7 pm, and you can pay on the door. All seats are priced £10 (£9 concessions). This is your last chance to see John Henshaw sing with Twisted Wheel, Terry Christian play a drunken priest, and Clint Boon perform a heart-wrenching version of “This is how it feels” on a Victorian pump organ. Not to mention MaD’s Alana, Lauren and Katelin as the three Marys. You really have never seen (or heard) anything like it …

30 August 2009

Some reviews of Angels with Manky Faces at the Library theatre: by UK Theatre Network; whatsonstage; and You need to register to gain access to’s website (well worthwhile), so to be going on with, here is the text of Jayne Robinson’s review:


Now that’s what live theatre’s all about. That bit there, when every face in the crowded theatre beamed, and every hand clapped along to a Mancunian rendition of The Pogues’ ‘Dirty Old Town’. Or the bit when lines were slightly fluffed, but everyone was too swept along in the spirit of the scene to give a crap (and what the hell does an over-polished performance count for anyway when a production has the power to raise this much life in its audience?). Or maybe it’s that bit at the end, when the divide between stage and stall may as well not even be there – because the performers stood on it are just as overjoyed and every bit as human as the faces sat in front of them.

I’m gushing. And rightly so, because tonight’s performance of Angels with Manky Faces at Manchester’s Library Theatre was one of the most exciting pieces of theatre I’ve seen in ages. The latest offering by down-to-earth Manchester based theatre company MaD takes Andrew Davies’ bestselling book ‘Gangs of Manchester’ as its inspiration, dragging historical fact through a wonderland of dramatic license and creating a hilarious (honestly), touching and relevant story that mixes original photography and video by Paul Cliff with live action, to create a Victorian ‘Madchester’ – with a modern-era soundtrack and a cast of famous faces gathered from every corner of the region’s pop-culture and wrapped up in sepia.

It’s 1894. The Bengal Tigers are a Burberry-clad Scuttling gang from Ancoats, Manchester. Past times include drinking, hanging out with their prostitute-sweethearts, violent fighting with neighbouring gangs and general ASBO-worthy behaviour that make Fagin’s gang of pick-pocketing ne’er do wells look like a bunch of Southern fairies. And so things continue until an Irish beauty arrives on the scene and sparks the attention of the gang’s leader, Jimmy Johnson – who chooses to put his scuttlin’ life behind him in favour of domestic bliss with the Misssus.

Live action is set against a filmic backdrop, and interspersed with full filmed scenes by Manchester filmmaker Paul Cliff that include cameos by the likes of Clint Boon, Mike Joyce, Twisted Wheel, FC United, Terry Christian and Jon Hensaw to name but a few.

The large cast – a troupe of 6 adults and 15 youths of mixed ages – is well handled by director Rob Lees and smoothly glued together with energy and sass. The mainly teenage cast are, on the whole, exceptional – with stand out performances from Jack Williamson as Jimmy, and Abi Gunning and Rosie Philips as his two love interests, Fanny Flanagan and Ann-Marie O’Donnell.

But it’s the littlest cast members who inevitably steal the stage. Yes, they have cuteness on their side and with that in mind would be hard-pressed to cock anything up really, but Alana Thornton and Lauren Lennon are pretty astounding in their sizeable comedic roles as gobby-little-shites Mary-Ellen and Mary-Ann.

One of the aims of MaD theatre company is to attract new audiences to theatre. Mission accomplished guys. Angels with Manky Faces sold-out quickly, with extra nights being put on to cope with demand. I also heard a rumour after the show that the production may reappear at a different Manchester venue in the near future… my advice would be to snap up a ticket straight away if this happens.


Cheers to Jayne for that. For some audience feedback, check out the page on Angels with Manky Faces on MaD Theatre Company’s website here.

7 July 2009

Nearly there now … the first performance of Angels with Manky Faces is all set for Wednesday 22 July at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. There will be two performances at the Unity, on 22-23 July. The cast are all raring to go, and Paul Cliff is putting the finishing touches to the film sequences. There are now eight of these – see the string of posts on the home page – with cameos by a host of Manchester-based actors and musicians. The latest film features Twisted Wheel, plus John Henshaw and Smug Roberts – both of whom recently appeared in Looking for Eric. BBC North-West have filmed a report on the preparations for the play – further details will follow as soon as we have a date for the broadcast.

Ticket sales are going really well. The Thursday night at Liverpool is almost sold-out; the Friday and Saturday nights in Manchester (21-22 August) are not far off. If you fancy coming along, get on to it sooner rather than later. See you there.

13 February 2009

Members of the MaD Theatre Company and junior supporters of FC United of Manchester have taken part in historical reconstructions for a feature on The Gangs of Manchester to be broadcast on BBC1 on Wednesday 18 February at 7.30 p.m. The programme is the North-West edition of Inside Out. It will be available on the BBC i-player for one week following the broadcast.

13 November 2008:

Tracey King, who designs and makes the costumes for all MaD’s productions, will start researching the costumes for Angels with Manky Faces shortly. She is going to work from descriptions of scuttlers and their molls in contemporary newspapers, as well as photographs of the Rochdale Road district in the 1890s. Some of the lads are going to have to have to have their cut short at the back and sides, but leave their fringes long (in the style of William Henry Brooks on the cover of Gangs of Manchester).

Long-term members of MaD Jack Williamson and Rosie Phillips will be playing a Bengal Tiger and his moll. You can see Rosie and Jack in the video for John Reynolds’ song “Move Closer” on youtube. Don’t miss the surprise at the end!


25 October 2008:

The story outline is now in place, and after much mulling over the title has been finalised: Angels with Manky Faces. It’s now set in 1894, the year that the Manchester Ship Canal opened. 

Two of the scenes will be filmed, and the Manchester photographer and film-maker Paul Cliff is currently scouting locations in North Manchester.

The dates for the performances at the Library Theatre have been set: Wednesday 19 – Saturday 22 August. There will be four evening performances and a matinee on the Saturday afternoon.


6 October 2008:

The gist of the plot is coming together – the working title is This was Manchester. MaD script-writers Rob Lees and Jill Hughes, and photographer and film-maker Paul Cliff, are devising an original story line with the edge and humour that characterise all MaD’s productions.

Rob and Jill are going to set the play in the late 1880s. They are basing it around a fictionalised scuttler from Ancoats – a Bengal Tiger – who falls in love, promises to give up the gang, but finds that his past all too quickly comes back to haunt him.

Incidentally, the title of the play is still up for grabs, not least because we hope to stage it in Liverpool as well as Manchester in July/August 2009. We think that the issues it deals with are pertinent in both cities – and we want people in Liverpool to come and see it too. Rob’s latest suggestion is Dirty Old Town. Andy’s own preferred title is North Side Story. Watch this space …


  1. Titel surgestion ” Gangs ,both sides of the Mersey”

  2. I say go with Dirty Old Town, the song was written about Salford.

  3. why not “the scuttlers”?…….

  4. […] 769) by Kate Bradley of Andrew Davies’ book The Gangs of Manchester, the inspiration for the play Angels With Manky Faces which opened last […]

  5. Just seen the play – fantastic, emotional and enthralling

  6. Saw the performance last night; brilliant! The story was excellent, and the way the video was woven into the play could not have been better. The cast were were excellent and their enthusiasm could not be faulted. The dialogue was really authentic, it brought back memories of my boyhood in Miles Platting.

    Congratulations to all concerned with the production. It would be a pity if this were the last time the production saw the light of day.

  7. […] […]

  8. Wow, we really loved the play. Great acting and great production. Ok there was one or two tiny pauses while some of the actors got up to speed, but I can only recall 3 =2 or 3 small stammers, which considering the amount of script and the young actors is fantastic. IWe loved all the film/music sequences. My favourites were Dirty Old Town, and of course Who stole the Sun; this version is infinitely superior to the far harder version we have been able to find on the internet. Please release this as a single Twisted Wheel. You really suit this style and I hope you will do more like this.
    All the staff at the theate were great, and couldn’t do enough for us, even getting my email addy to help find me one of the ‘sold out’ Bengal Tigers badges, as I am a badge collector.
    I hope the music is released as an album, we will definitely buy at least two copies.
    I hope this is turned into a film or TV series, but keeping some of the influence of the theatre production, including many of the actors/actresses, and ALL the songs played. (even though you missed out King of the Scuttlers this afternoon).
    Thanks for the talk afterwards. Seeing this production, and being interested in the book. It really feels like we ARE involved, rather than just a statistic which is how most theatre productions make you feel. Keep up the good work 🙂

  9. i am doing the play at my high school and i really like how it suddenly changes from all happy too jimmy dead

    • Brilliant performance at Manchester Creative and Media Academy in Blackley last night. Well done to everyone in the cast, all that hard work paid off!

  10. […] reviews (no. 769) Andrew Davies’ book The Gangs of Manchester, the inspiration for the play Angels With Manky Faces which opens next […]

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