The long anticipated Manchester International Festival 2015 is in full swing now. As always MIF have taken over St. Albert’s Square, renamed Festival Square for the month. It’s relaxed and chilled out in the daytime, with food and drinks stalls around scattered picnic benches accompanied by a full programme of musicians on the acoustic stage. After stopping there on Friday night for a quick look around, we headed down Oxford Road to the Palace Theatre to see Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini’s new stage musical wonder.land.
The Palace is an iconic part of Manchester’s theatre landscape, especially for large scale musicals, so it’s fitting that it gets to host this particular show. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the show features some beautiful psychedelic scenery and visual projections – such the metallic disembodied head of The Cheshire Cat that hangs in the air above the actors. The actors themselves are also outstanding at times, particularly Anna Francolini, who plays the evil headteacher Ms. Maxome with Disney villainess-style flair and disdain.
Afterwards we took a stroll back to Festival Square, where Drunk at Vogue and Cha Cha Boudoir performed a special show at the Festival Pavilion – We Only Happen at Night. Taking cues from wonder.land, passages from Lewis Carroll’s books were narrated over the music, while in the first live act the performers rose up out of a caterpillar costume, producing fans that mimicked butterfly wings. The other acts were equally enthralling, showing MIF can do the small scale events just as well as the large.
Saturday saw the festival kick into high gear with plenty more events, but the absolute highlight was The Immortal, a grand oratorio work composed by Liverpool born Mark Simpson and featuring the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonic Choir and vocal group Exaudi.
MIF may have its pick of the city’s venues, but a performance like this could really only have been held at the Bridgewater Hall. The music was at times so intense that the incredible intricacies and textures might have been lost in other concert halls. A stunning work based on philosophical writing about life and death, The Immortal was a truly powerful experience that I personally felt privileged to be at.
Manchester International Festival continues until 19th July, with plenty of exciting shows yet to come.
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