That was July

When I previewed July’s theatre in Manchester, I was looking forward to a busy month.  How did it turn out in practice?

The Manchester International Festival was, I think, a huge success.  Festival Square was a wonderful place with DJ sets, acoustic music and great food, although I wonder how far into Manchester’s population the Festival really reached.  Tree of Codes was the surprise stand out; an amazing, emotional journey fusing the best of dance, music and visual art.  At the Royal Exchange the Skriker gave a glimpse of the exciting future that we might expect here in the coming years.  HOME presented Neck of the Woods, another fusion of art, music and theatre, to almost universal disapproval, although there was a lot about this production I liked.  Wonder.land was disappointing, and Damon Albarn’s comment that it would be right by the time it got to London still hurts.  Installations at the Whitworth and Art Gallery were worth visiting time and time again.  I would have seen everything.

Despite noting that I was excited by Flare, I could never have imagined how much I would love this Festival which showcases work at the cutting edge of performance art and theatre.  If the format is repeated next year I would buy a Festival pass and see every show.  As it was, there were excellent performances from rising stars, and established UK and European performance artists.  I won’t forget Figs in Wigs’ dance routines!  But for me the highlight was Jamal Harewood’s ‘The Privileged’, where the artist dresses in a polar bear outfit to challenge our preconceptions and beliefs.  I didn’t review this; it’s a personal journey, and you can either have the debate with others or inside your own head.  This is a Festival that Manchester should be proud to support.

There wasn’t as much time left for the GM Fringe as I would have liked.  But then one of the problems with this Festival is that you could see a lot of the work during the year.  And maybe July is now the time to see something truly different.  Nevertheless some shows stand out.  Before I Fall is a play that puts you at the centre of the mental health debate, and is powerful theatre.  Dream Play turned the Nexus Art Cafe into a dreamscape; impressive, you had to admire the ambition of this production.  Back Seat Betty was a complex and beautifully performed monologue in the cellar of Joshua Brooks.  Of course, there’s always the option of Buxton, a long running and vibrant Fringe only an hour by train into the stunning Derbyshire countryside.

Holidays meant I missed a lot of the slimmed down 24:7 Festival.  The Festival’s focus on new writing is important and it draws huge audiences; it’s been an integral part of the July theatre scene for over ten years, even when there was no other theatre here in July.

Having said all this, one of the stand-out productions in July was The Shrine of Everyday Things.  Set on an about-to-be-demolished Brunswick estate, devised by a Brazil/Manchester creative team and performed by the Contact Young Company, this was a beautifully conceived and intelligently acted piece of site specific theatre that asked us questions about how and where we live.  Completely relevant to the places and people of Manchester now.

 

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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