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An Octoroon (2023) Manchester School of Theatre review – nothing short of brilliance

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Featured image: Brandon Bennett. L-R: Manchester School of Theatre actors Anecia Warner, Paryce Richards, Florence Nomafo, Elliot Parchment-Morrison and Frank Wilson-Caines


Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ play An Octoroon, recites an adapted version of The Octoroon (1859) by Irish actor and playwright, Dion Boucicault. The story follows a struggling Louisiana slave plantation, with the tumultuous love story of the new owner of the plantation and ‘octoroon’, Zoe. Jacob-Jenkins’ play within a play reflects on the distressing nature of our history, with a postmodernist view as to its effects on the present day and the performance delivered by BA (Hons) Acting students from the Manchester School of Theatre was nothing short of brilliance.

The general natter from friends, family and fellow students’ pre-performance inside Manchester Metropolitan’s theatre encapsulated the excitement felt within the room to see the nine students who had dedicated the past several weeks in preparation for the performance; and it certainly did not disappoint.

The performance begins with a monologue from Naytanael Israel, playing Jacob-Jenkins, followed by a ten-minute break in vocal for the performer to paint his entire body in white paint, preparing the audience for the play’s judicious comment on history’s relation to a play intended to be performed to an audience of the 21st century.

The play’s director, Deborah Yhip, perfectly portrays the dark and meaningful story to the witty and ironic intention of Jacob-Jenkins. Where laughter fills the theater at times, silences join close behind as if there was no one in the room.

The student actors are unfaultable. Just when you think one performer has completely drawn your attention, another walks on stage to do just the same. With multiple students playing multiple characters, the distinction remains clear with all nine performers unfathomably functioning and behaving as their allocated roles. 

The passion and charisma of the students working alongside the unbelievable story and production, is wildly entertaining for a modern audience; the play concludes with roaring cheers. The inclusion of original performances both at the start, with a modern piece with original vocals from Lauren Corless and Anecia Warner, further emphasises the sheer talent of the performers, as well as an acoustic lyrical piece performed by the entire cast at the end of the show.

The final piece is so raw and moving, closing the performance perfectly. Looking out at the crowd for their final bows, the weeks of unbelievably hard work have paid off as the cast looked close to tears with pure joy. As the audience rise to their feet to cheer the sheer talent they had the fortune of experiencing for the three hours prior. 

While An Octoroon has had its final run, Manchester School of Theatre has two other shows before the year finishes with ‘Light Falls’ running 9 – 11 November, as well as ‘Mr Burns: A Post Electric play’ on 30 November – 2 December. Believe me when I say, these are not to be missed if An Octoroon is anything to go by.

Visit theatre.mmu.ac.uk/productions to see the remaining Manchester School of Theatre Autumn season shows.

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Ella Bartman

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