Man on a Bench Fairytale

How art, the creative world and events can help raise awareness of the ever-growing number of individuals and families finding themselves without a permanent home.

The Production:

Mayfield Depot, Manchester

Working in partnership with the Museum of Homelessness, David Tovey’s most recent production of “Man on a Bench Fairytale”, tells his story dating back to five years ago when he himself was homeless and battling with suicidal tendencies. Then, one day a conversation with a man on a bench stopped him from another suicide attempt and changed his life.

The production was led by David, developed by people who have experienced homelessness and in conjunction with the Museum of Homelessness. This compelling story was told in the form of an opera and utilised various art forms – featuring models, poets, actors and musicians in an interactive performance.

The Brief:

Following a successful exhibition project with the Museum of Homelessness at the Manchester Art Gallery, we were approached to support the “Man on a Bench Fairytale” production at the iconic venue, the Mayfield Depot in Manchester. The venue dates back to 1782 and is rich in industrial history.

The Mayfield Depot is a large open plan space with industrial pillars and beams across the length and breadth of the venue. The space is a wash of natural light that pours in through the high windows set along one length of the venue’s space.

Our brief was to provide full technical production to the performance in the iconic venue and create an atmospheric environment that portrayed the characters emotional states, enhancing the performance with an eerie, uneasy setting.

Man on a Bench Fairytale

The Solution

The brief required the scene to be set in a dark and unsettling way, simulating what it is like to be living on the streets, in this instance at night. As there was a lot of natural light flooding into the space, we used draping to cover the windows, allowing strategically placed gaps for rays of natural light to enter the building. This coupled with both hanging and freestanding lights placed around the venue, created the impression of light from streetlights.

In addition, we dressed the room with uplighters at each of the iron pillars across the venue, creating a subtle coloured glow. Providing full sound solutions allowed for the actors to be heard across the vast space. For the ambulance, which remained static through the performance, we projected on one side of the vehicle the stories of those that had unfortunately lost their lives as a result of homelessness, and finally, we used haze to increase the grittiness of the performance.

Man on a Bench Fairytale

“Thanks again for last week, we really appreciated all the hard work and especially the flexibility with the rehearsals we were doing. Production wise it was a first for many of the team and so we leaned on you a bit in terms of stretching the time that we had you. Adding things like the haze machine was a really nice touch as well – it made the show extra special.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Universal, both this time and a month ago for our exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. If we’re ever doing anything again we will definitely work with you.”

Matthew Turtle

Homelessness the Hard Facts:

There’s no one reason why people find themselves in temporary accommodation, and in the worst cases without any accommodation at all and forced to sleep rough. There is a worrying year on year growth in this. Statistics show that last year in England alone, 57,890 households were accepted as homeless, and 4,751 people slept rough on the streets on any given night – which is a 15% increase in the year before (Ref: 1). These numbers are based on local councils and charities who undertake annual people counts, but do not necessarily reflect the severity of those people that are actually sleeping rough, known as the ‘hidden homeless’.

In Manchester, where the production of “Man on the Bench Fairytale” took place and where Universal Live Ltd have a branch and warehouse, a reported 268 people across the Greater Manchester area are known to be sleeping on the streets (Ref: 2). Although, reports do suggest that that number could be more than double that amount.

Man on a Bench Fairytale

Manchester council and other councils across the country are promising additional funding to help fight the plight of homelessness in its cities, towns and even villages but still, every day more people find themselves without a permanent home. ‘Dying Homeless’ is a long-term project set up by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, to count those that die homeless in the UK. BIJ recently reported that over 440 people have died homeless from October 2017- October 2018 in the UK (Ref: 3).

Productions and events such as the “Man on the Bench Fairytale” are bringing to the forefront of people’s minds the seriousness of homelessness in the UK, both at a local and national level. It was a great honour and a pleasure to have been involved in this project. We look forward to the many more productions that David Tovey and the Museum of Homelessness produce.


  1. Information collated from Crisis
  2. Statistic and statistical table information was assembled from
  3. Bureau of Investigative Journalism