Manchester International Festival

MIF – Concert in the dark and Doctor Who

MIF LogoThere are only 2 days left until the start of the biennial Manchester International Festival. It promises to present “new works from across the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture” and celebrates Manchester’s “pivotal role in music, culture, innovation and the arts”.

It sounds exactly like the kind of thing I should love, so why then do I feel ambivalent? From the 30th June to 17th July Manchester will host 26 world premiers or special events, 10 of which are free, but in reality there are only 2 events that have my attention – and I’m unlikely to attend either of them.

Before you read on you should check out the website and programme for yourself. More than 200,000 people visited the inaugural Festival in 2007 and around 230,000 people attended in 2009 – It’s a popular event and there are lots of big names performing so don’t let my lack of enthusiasm deter you.

ECLIPSEAmadou & Mariam

The first event that appeals to me is Amadou & Mariam’s Eclipse, showing between 14th and 16th July at New Century Hall.

I have never listened to the music of “Malian musical superstars” Amadou & Mariam. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of them before the festival. They have 6 albums under their belts, including the track “All I Believe in” from the The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack. (I haven’t actually verified that snippet of trivia – blame Wikipedia if it’s not true). They are very well known apparently, just not by me.

I have no idea what to expect from their music but the concept behind these performances has me intrigued. You see, they will be performing 6 intimate concerts entirely in the dark to create an “unforgettable sensory experience”.

Amadou & Mariam, who met in the orchestra of The Institute for the Young Blind in Bamako, have been married for 25 years. When asked about the concerts Amadou Bagayoko said:

“If you cannot see, your sense of sound becomes richer. You appreciate the qualities of sound. That’s one reason I wanted to have a series of concerts in the darkness. I wanted the audiences to try to hear the music just as Mariam and I hear it.”

Intriguing right?

The problem is, what if I hate their music? It seems like a lot of money to spend on a whim if it turns out to be 90 minutes of torture. On the other hand, they could be (and probably are) exceptional, unforgettable, or at the very least entertaining.

Amadou & MariamA friend suggested I should buy an album and listen to it with the curtains closed, thus saving myself a lot of money. He’s got a point, but the environment in which you experience the music, the excitement of knowing it’s live, hearing the music reverberate around you and feeling the room vibrate, is always going to be an entirely different experience to sitting in your front room, even if you do have a great sound system. I loved The Blue Man Group, for example, when we watched them nervously from the sixth row in Vegas, but I wouldn’t listen to them through my iPod.

I have to ask myself – Do I have £27.50 worth of curiosity? (or rather £55 worth of curiosity – as I don’t plan to go alone). As yet I’m still undecided.

Are you familiar with Amadou & Mariam’s music? Will you be going to hear them during the festival? I’d love to hear other people’s feedback to spur me into making a decision either way.


Doctor WhoThe second event I want to write about – the one I would be positively giddy about if I could actually go, is Doctor Who: The Crash of the Elysium. Yes, I am a total geek.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had the inside scoop on this particular show. I know someone working on the set. They are, and subsequently I am, sworn to absolute secrecy. My lips are sealed. I don’t like spoilers but if you want to get a feel for what to expect I recommend you read Lyn Gardner’s article for the Guardian here.   

I called it a show, but it isn’t really is it? It’s an interactive adventure in which you have one terrifying hour to save world.

Doctor Who: The Crash of the Elysium is a new work created by immersive theatre specialists Punchdrunk, which tend to leave their audiences / participants, babbling excitedly for days (or weeks) afterwards.

Their 2009 MIF show, “It Felt Like a Kiss” was a nightmarish, walk-through experience about America’s 1960s colonisations of far-flung parts of the globe. When a friend described her (traumatic sounding) experience of the show I kicked myself for not going too.

In this year’s Doctor Who however, it is the children who will have to don biohazard suits to save the world. That’s the kicker: I cannot go because adults are only allowed in if they are accompanying a child aged between 6 and 12 years old. I’m not above child-borrowing but no-one has volunteered yet.

Are you familiar with the works of Punchdrunk? Did you go to “It Felt Like a Kiss”? Can I borrow your children? (Kidding!)

Seriously though, are you planning to go to any of the events during the festival?

Which other shows would you recommend?


13 thoughts on “Manchester International Festival

  1. I’m going to see Doctor Who! Hurray!

    Yes I know I’m too old to get excited about a children’s show. Even so, Punchdrunk productions have such amazing reviews I’d didn’t want to miss out again.

    My mole working on the show has given me a ticket to an adult only performance. No kids required!

    (Although I do think that’s a pity – I actually think that children would make the show far more entertaining. Children are better as suspending disbelief. I can imagine them being swept away by it all – being terrified, being heroic, saving the world when the adults cannot.) I’m not complaining though. I’m delighted. I’ll just have to save the world myself!

    There are only a couple of adult only performances so if you want to go I suggest you buy your tickets asap! Tickets are only available through

  2. Hey
    Funny post, I just youtubed Amadou and Mariam, hmmm, I think you have to be in the mood for world music, I have some Senegalese CD’s which I listen to occassionally but they are quite absorbing and I when I turn it off I always feel a bit relieved. If you could dance then it would be pretty cool, I mean in the dark with the music all around and loads of strangers dancing too. But just sitting there…hmmm. Not for me.

    • Hey, thanks. 🙂

      I hadn’t considered dancing in the dark. I’d assumed it wouldn’t be that kind of music I guess. If it is pitch black I could stand up and dance – who would know right? (Except for security watching the night vision cameras, but I’m unlikely to see them again). Hmmm, I’m still not convinced. I should probably try youtubing them myself at some point.

      I think I might try out some of the other shows – I see Lavinia Greenlaw’s Audio Obscura has set up inside Piccadilly Station. (i.e. there’s a mysterious big grey box. I don’t know whether you go inside it or if it opens up…) I don’t really know what it is but it’s free and lasts half an hour so I’m going to try to fit it in.

      Monkey: Journey to the West was a phenomenal success in 2009 so I’m regretting dismissing Dr Dee: An English Opera so quickly. That could be worth a look if tickets are still available.

      Festival Pavilion has set up outside the town hall so I might take advantage of the warm weather whilst it lasts and head over there for a drink or food. They have DJs and live music at night too.

      Do you think you might get to anything?

      • I need to look and see, I’m in town with a friend who’s visiting tomorrow from the Midlands, I hope there’s something on to spontaniously do, I’m rubbish at planning ahead, otherwise we’ll just see art and drink coffee. I’m afraid I’m not feeling the Dr Who excitement. 😉
        Next book club in the underground tunnels?

      • Lol, Love it! Spooky books and haunted tunnels: Lou’s book club is at risk of becoming a social networking group!

        I hope you have a good time in town with your friend today. You probably won’t see much of the Manchester International Festival but there is a good chance you will stumble upon the Fringe Festival instead.

        The Fringe Festival (called Not Part Of) has over 150 events across 48 venues between 30th June and 16th July. They’ve got things happening in the street, in bars, in cafes, in lots of seemingly random locations. If you wanted to pick up a brochure to find out locations they have an information point in the Royal Exchange Theatre.

        Have fun!

    • I loved Dr Who: The Crash of The Elysium!

      You realise pretty much from the outset that you can’t just stand back and watch whilst other people do the interactive stuff. The actors make sure that everyone is involved and constantly jumble you around so you can’t cling onto your companion for encouragement.

      There are even embarrassing punishments if you don’t get in character!

      Brilliant. Loved every minute.

      I won’t tell you what happened but if you want spoilers you could check out these newspaper reviews. To anyone who is going though DO NOT READ THE REVIEWS! The less you know in advance the better!

      The Telegraph Review gave it 4 stars. (Only 4* for adults maybe but surely it’s 5* from a child’s perspective. It was terrifying!)

      The Guardian Review gave it 5 stars. Plus this other Guardian Review is full of spoilers.

      I need to get on the Punchdrunk mailing list. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

  3. I saw Dr Dee at the weekend. My mum said she felt like she’d been on drugs for the whole show.
    I actually enjoyed it though – rather unusual music and it is quite difficult to figure out what is going on most of the time, but the production was stunning!

    • I’m beginning to regret not considering Dr Dee more seriously. The more people keep talking about it the more I think I’m missing out. Lol.

      Are you going to review it on your blog? If so, I look forward to reading it.

  4. ManchesterConfidential published an interesting article about MIF yesterday. It begins with a rant criticising lots of little things wrong with this years MIF. It then goes on to praise the ‘Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic.’

    I don’t agree with everything Mark Garner wrote, but I too have been left disappointed by my visits to the Festival Pavilion and I too rolled my eyes at the Guardian Guide ‘Tribes of Manchester.’

    The article apparently hit a nerve with some readers but I enjoyed it. It also made me regret not getting tickets to the ‘Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic’, currently showing at The Lowry.

    If you’d like to know what I’m going on about you can read the article here:

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