The Manchester International Festival is held every two years and this year, 2013, was the biggest and best yet. Featuring stars of stage and screen, such as Williem Dafoe, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Maxine Peake, Francesca Annis and Massive Attack.
The golden ticket, and the one hardest to bag, was to see Macbeth with Kenneth Brannagh, the internet had a slight nervous breakdown coping with the demand with people, as far away as the US, trying to gain an audience with the Shakespearian poster boy. The ‘surprise’ of the festival and the ticket that passed us all by was The xx In Residence – I barely gave that a second thought yet apparently it was astounding, I won’t tell you what happens except that I really really wish I’d seen it.
Massive Attack Vs Adam Curtis was a cool, inspiring and loud work of art. One of the most exciting moments was at the start, walking into the gigantic warehouse holding a can of beer, the air was thick with anticipation. I couldn’t work out why it was called ‘versus’ rather than Massive Attack and Adam Curtis – but when it started I understood. The two mediums Curtis’ film and Massive’s music vie for your attention – I was conflicted did I want to dance or sit back and enjoy the film? In the end I didn’t really do either –however I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience (and the beer).
I took my youngest to see ‘Once Upon a Time’ a dance, mime and acting piece about fairy tales – the genre was experimental and my five year old lapped it up – it was so refreshing for children to be treated to something that little bit different.
The Masque of Anarchy was an exceptionally atmospheric, powerful and thought provoking piece set in the beautiful and newly discovered Albert Hall. Maxine Peake recounting Shelley’s poem about the Massacre at Peterloo in 1819 lasted for about 25 minutes and you could hear a pin drop. In a long white nineteen century dress and night cap on a stage ablaze with candles – it was quite an experience. Shelley lines urging ‘the people’ to rise like lions after slumber, ‘shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you – Ye are many – they are few’ I was ready to take to the streets with pitch forks and flaming torches.
However I didn’t, I went on to Festival Square and Rob Da Bank. It was a great atmosphere, people friendly and smiling (the warm balmy night, admittedly, probably helped with this – might not have been so much fun in the pouring rain) my friend and I lunged from DJ tent, to clubbing tent somehow winding up in the town hall and the Artists Party – with a free champagne bar and dancing until 2.30am….it was definitely worth the headache on Sunday.
The last piece I saw was The Machine, a newly commissioned piece by the Donmar Warehouse. Arguably on paper this was the least interesting – unless you’re really into Chess - Garry Kasparvo, the Soviet world champion, undisputed King of Chess taking on Deep Blue a chess computer in NYC in 1997. However it was completely compelling, creatively staged and wonderfully acted with a sublime Francesca Annis.
This sums the Manchester International festival up, commissioning compelling, risk taking theatre music and dance. Pieces with bite, character and flair. It’s the dare devil stunt man of festivals, who likes to jump through fire hoops in drag. Sometimes it works and takes your breath away, and other times not so much but your glad you saw it anyway.
I can’t finish, however, without a word about the unsung hero of the festival - Manchester itself. The venues are daring, creative and use spaces many of us city dwellers have never seen or been in before. The city opens up in a way that is exciting, interesting and inventive - it makes me very proud to call Manchester my home.
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