Rona Munro's Scuttlers is a play about youthful disaffection, protest and violence, drawing on the history of the scuttlers, the youth gangs of nineteenth-century Manchester. It was first performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, on 5 February 2015.
The play is set in Ancoats, Manchester, in 1882, where rapid and tumultuous social change is being driven by the Industrial Revolution and its appetite for cheap labour. With a dense, newly formed urban population living amongst the constant rumbling of the mills and noxious air pollution, the frustrations and grievances of the young mill workers get channelled into street gangs, fighting over their territory with belts, fists and knives. The Bengal Street Tigers and the Prussia Street gangs are both determined to get the better of each other, and internal rivalries are equally hotly contested. The two gangs – led by the reluctant George and Joe on one side, and on the other by Sean, keen to reassert his authority as 'King of the Tigers' – are heading for a violent clash. Meanwhile, Theresa, barely more than a child herself but already known as the 'mother tiger', provides an unofficial welfare system for other young women, including the needy Margaret and young Polly, who wants to be one of the boys.
In an author's note published in the script (Nick Hern Books, 2015), Munro writes: 'Scuttlers was written in response to the street riots of 2011. ... [W]hat struck me, reading the newspaper accounts of the doings of the scuttlers from the nineteenth century, was how closely they mirrored the same papers and other commentators reporting on the 2011 riots. Whatever those nights of violence represented, it’s clear they are not just a sickness of our age: the same sickness has plagued us for well over a hundred years.'
The Royal Exchange premiere was directed by Wils Wilson and designed by Fly Davis. The cast included Rona Morison (as Theresa), Chloe Harris (as Polly), Caitriona Ennis, Tachia Newall (as Joe), Anna Krippa, Dan Parr, David Judge, Bryan Parry (as Sean), Kieran Urquhart (as George) and Duncan Ross, with an additional community ensemble.