Rockets and Blue Lights: Using Theatre to Confront the Legacy of the Past

‘While names such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson have lived on as the heroes of the [British abolition] movement…the names of its heroines and their role in blazing a trail where men could only but follow has been all but wiped from popular memory’ – Cahal Milmo, The Independent

Rocket and Blue Lights is a new play at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

The history of British abolition, the transatlantic slave trade, and the argument over whose narrative has dictated that history, are the contentious waters in which the theatrical production Rockets and Blue Lights floats upon.

The brand new play, written by Winsome Pinnock and directed by Miranda Cromwell, intertwines two different timelines. The first is the modern tale of a black actress struggling with her part in a movie about the transatlantic slave trade. The second strand of the play, set in the 19th century, is weaved into this narrative, and focuses on a black sailor called Thomas and his interactions with the painter and abolitionist J. M. W. Turner. The play cuts deep into the political landscape surrounding the legacy of slavery, questioning who has the right to tell the stories of our past.

The new Joint Artistic Directors at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise, recently released a shared video statement about the production within the walls of the Manchester Exchange, which formerly hosted slave-picked cotton trading before it became the theatre. They explain their pride in presenting this play, and the significance of why Rockets and Blue Lights is being shown ‘now, in Manchester, in this room’.

Joint Artistic Directors, Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise

Rockets and Blue Lights is the winner of the 2018 Alfred Fagon Award, and will run until April 4th at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Blue Shoes Productions have secured a permanent working relationship with the Royal Exchange through new Digital Content Officer Liam Steers, so keep your eyes peeled for any digital content released on the theatre’s YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.


Blue Shoes Productions have recently been commissioned by The Lowry theatre in Salford to create a short documentary about the abolition movement in Manchester, which you can read about here.