Dr Jennifer Daniel

Noah’s Flood, photo Tom Arber

In the same week that Prof Merriman, at the launch of the new Centre for Social Responsibility (CSR) asked the question ‘If the state has left the building, what’s left?’, I enjoyed a cathartic theatre of commerce, and a socially instrumentalist opera; one profit-making, the other funded (at arm’s length) by the state.

At the CSR event ‘Human flourishing’ was positioned as a social and civic phenomenon. Elsewhere I have noted a movement toward the flourishing individual. These both have resonance with recent theatre productions: Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood, performed as part of the Manchester International Festival; and Greatest Days, the official Take That musical, staged recently at the Liverpool Empire.

Noah’s Flood is a professional/community opera, produced by Manchester Collective and Slung Low, performed in a warehouse, with input from 200 performers including professional musicians, community ensembles, and primary-school children. A warning for our time, it tells the bible story of the apocalyptic flood and the new hope arising.

This was an Arts Council funded project, benefiting communities from across the North of England. The experience and the message were of community-building, of participation and of social responsibility, and this was affected in a magnificent and accessible experience for many hundreds of people.

Greatest Days in contrast, has no such embedded responsibility.  A commercial venture based on the Take That catalogue, it currently tours the UK taking many millions of pounds at the box office. Yet, informed by modern psychotherapy, it is a brilliantly cathartic piece of analysis of how and why women in particular become emotionally stuck, and how we might move forward and flourish.

Drawing from transactional analysis, we see characters experience tragic loss in adolescence, and go on variously to emotional ‘stuckness’, and inability to move forward. Only when confronted with their ‘inner children’ are they permitted to become their full selves and flourish personally and within society. All the while the songs of Take That remind us of the inner children, who we didn’t quite leave in the 90s, and what we might choose to do about that now.

Here is the social zeitgeist that alerts us to our inner limitations and reminds us that the power to change is within. And yet it is always socially (in groups, in conferences, in theatre) that we come to these realisations. Both productions I would argue were societal. They were civic, and had transformative potential for audience (and the opera for its public participants).

While it’s unlikely on an aesthetic level that many of those attracted to the jukebox musical might also engage with the work of Britten, we might focus on the human growth potential brought by both these productions: the process toward personal thriving and completeness exemplified in Greatest Days, and the flourishing of an entire community in Noah’s Flood, brought about by Arts Council funding and socially conscious institutions that can facilitate such extensive and transformative arts participation.

Dr Jennifer Daniel, Senior Lecturer in Musical Theatre.