Party Skills for the End of the World

Manchester International Festival’s 2017 theatre offering starts with Party Skills for the End of the World, ‘a wild, immersive show that will teach you how to get by when the end comes and it’s time to celebrate everything that’s made life worth living’.  And that is what this production sets out to do.  It asks the big question ‘What does make life worth living?  What would you regret?’  Given the large audience, it’s an ambitious project both in scale and pace.

The production well and truly takes over the Centenary Building on Salford University Campus, turning it into a set from a dystopian future, each laboratory a place to learn a different skill that might come in handy at the end of the world.  You choose where to go, what skills to learn.  Practical skills score high, you can learn to navigate by the stars, to throw a punch, to make light from the lead inside a pencil.  There’s really practical stuff too, like how best to grow food when you have no nutrients.  Then there’s the best party skills, making the perfect cocktail, showing off with balloon models, folding napkins, making a speech, lying.

But the problem is that the first part sets up too many options for how you would deal with the end of the world, and they don’t pay off later.  As the world ends, there is one big question and there’s a lot of fun.  I don’t like dancing in public but I felt very much part of what was happening when the music started.  But I wanted more.  I wanted this production to take the paradoxes it had created and run with them, ask more of the audience.  It would have been a brave and clever thing to do.

Still, it’s an impressive performance that as an audience member the more you put in the more you get out.  It’s good to see large scale immersive theatre in Manchester/Salford and the memories, both visual and emotional, will stick with you for a long time.

As I walk home along Chapel Street I am invited into Salford Cathedral to light a candle.  I choose to sit and think what would I reflect on at the end of the world.  A musician plays a guitar to one side.  Would I choose hope? Love?  Achievement?  I think I would wish that I had danced more.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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