Manchester International Festival: Our Top Picks
Written by Jamie Griffiths on March 15, 2023
Manchester International Festival: Our Top Picks
Factory International have announced the 2023 edition of Manchester International Festival (MIF) from 29 June to 16 July. Working with partners regionally and across the globe, the wide-ranging programme of original new work by artists from around the world will take place in venues and spaces throughout the city and at Factory International’s much-anticipated new home, which opens its doors for the first time for the Festival, in advance of its official opening in October. Manchester’s much-loved Festival Square relocates to the building’s outdoor spaces with free live music from over 100 performers, and a wide variety of food and drink, creating a new riverside destination for Manchester. Matinee favourites Maxine Peake, Justin Vivian Bond and Richard Hawley are all welcome additions.
They marks a welcome return to the city for Maxine Peake who ended 2022 at the Royal Exchange Theatre in the fabulous Betty! A Sort Of Musical. They is s cult classic text from 1977, brought to life at MIF23 by Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom and Imogen Knight. They, Kay Dick’s dystopian masterpiece, will be adapted with a live, after hours performance by Peake inside the iconic John Rylands Library. They (5-9 July) is the trio’s latest Festival collaboration, following The Masque of Anarchy, The Skriker and The Nico Project, which all celebrated radical acts and artists. The project marks the group’s first production as the newly-formed company MAAT–a collective adventure to make new work in conversation with Music, Art, Activism and Theatre.
Having just taken the National Theatre by storm with his musical Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Richard Hawley and his Band will accompany John Grant to sing the songs of legendary country star Singer Patsy Cline, who paved the way for a thousand imitations – bridging pop and country with her unforgettable voice and star quality before her life was tragically cut short. For MIF23, a pair of modern-day icons take on her repertoire for the very first time: John Grant and Richard Hawley. Known for his searing wit, tenderness and commanding stage presence, singer-songwriter John Grant lends his commanding vocals to proceedings, while Richard Hawley and his band–often considered one of the best live acts in the UK–bring their sumptuous live sound. Drawing from a songbook full of classics like Walkin’ After Midnight and Crazy, you’ll hear the crème de la crème of country pop from some of the finest performers around. With songs spanning romance, heartbreak and drama–with a good dollop of joy–this is set to be a real sonic and visual feast. Cowboy boots optional.
Trans pioneer and icon of the cabaret scene, Justin Vivian Bond (or Viv to friends) has toured worldwide – headlining the likes of Sydney Opera House and New York’s Carnegie Hall. For one night only, Viv touches down in Manchester with a raucous and seductive evening of songs and stories – along with some very special guests. One Night In Trans Vegas sees MIF team up with Trans Creative, the UK’s leading trans arts company, for the grand finale of their 2023 Festival. Culminating in a trans-led takeover of Festival Square, Viv’s appearance is the jewel in the crown of a night of trans joy and excellence. As a performer, both on and Off-Broadway, Viv has received some of the highest accolades in theatre – winning an Obie and a Bessie, as well as being nominated for a Tony Award. The New Yorker didn’t call them ‘the greatest cabaret artist of their generation’ for nothing. A tireless campaigner for trans rights, they also pioneered the use of the pronoun Mx.
The MIF23 Programme In Full
In a series of works in the outdoor spaces across the city, Ryan Gander invites audiences to undertake a quest across the city in search of his latest artworks. Hundreds of thousands of collectable coins will be hiding in plain sight across Manchester, each embellished with words offering guidance on daily decisions. Left on park benches, walls, steps, in food courts and libraries, tucked away in parking ticket machines or between tram seats, Gander sets out an invitation for all of Manchester to go out and explore. With The Find (29 June – 16 July), Ryan Gander injects mystery into people’s everyday encounters, encouraging them to see the world around them differently.
On the banks of the River Medlock in Mayfield Park, artist Risham Syed and director Angie Bual will draw on ancient practices and river rituals from South Asian culture, in Each Tiny Drop (29 June), a special restorative event that honours our connection to water – and to one another. Audiences are invited to collect water specially transported from the Soan River in Pakistan and steward it into the River Medlock in a celebration of the life source we so often take for granted.
A collaboration between Blast Theory and Manchester Street Poem, We Cut Through Dust (29 June – 16 July) takes audiences on a walk through the city into the future guided by a series of phone calls. Set in a world not too far from now, the walk starts at a location where your mobile phone triggers a giant mechanical sign to open, and the story to begin. Blast Theory is an artist group which makes interactive work exploring social and political questions, and Manchester Street Poem is a co-produced art collective whose work reflects the personal experiences of Manchester’s marginalised communities.
A rich performance programme includes Kagami (29 June – 9 July), a unique collaboration between award-winning musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and Tin Drum, the world’s premiere mixed reality content production studio. Drawing on a body of work spanning electronic to classical composition and performance, Kagami represents a new kind of concert, fusing dimensional moving photography with the real world to create a never-before-experienced mixed reality presentation. Audiences will wear optically-transparent devices to view the virtual Sakamoto performing on a piano alongside dimensional art aligned with the music, and are free to wander and explore during the hour-long event at Versa Manchester Studios.
Composer Philip Venables and director Ted Huffman present a world premiere musical adaptation of Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta’s cult 1977 book The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions at HOME (29 June – 2 July), reimagining the history of the world through a queer lens with a cast of actors, singers and musicians. The ultimate anarchic bedtime story in which fables and myths celebrate queer community and conjure up a world on the brink of revolution with battle re-enactments, cheerleading, and all-night raves mixed with lute songs and court dances.
Another cult classic text from 1977 is brought to life at MIF23 by Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom and Imogen Knight, who will adapt They, Kay Dick’s dystopian masterpiece, with a live, afterhours performance by Peake inside the iconic John Rylands Library. They (5-9 July) is the trio’s latest Festival collaboration, following The Masque of Anarchy, The Skriker and The Nico Project, which all celebrated radical acts and artists. The project marks the group’s first production as the newly-formed company MAAT – a collective adventure to make new work in conversation with Music, Art, Activism and Theatre.
One of the biggest mysteries in the history of modern travel merges with a personal story from Helgard Haug, director and co-founder of the award-winning German theatre group Rimini Protokoll in All right. Good night. (6-8 July). In 2014, a flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members took off from Kuala Lumpur, heading towards Beijing, but the plane disappeared from radar. Shortly after the disappearance, Haug’s own father developed dementia. This powerful UK premiere is a meditation on disappearance, loss and how to deal with uncertainty. Performed live at HOME with a haunting contemporary score from Barbara Morgenstern and arranger Davor Vincze.
Dance company L-E-V and London-based record label Young come together to celebrate the freedom, energy and intimacy that runs through club culture in a night of dance and music in Manchester’s iconic New Century Hall night club. R.O.S.E (13-16 July) brings the dark hedonism of Sharon Eyal’s choreography and artistry of the L-E-V dancers off the stage and onto the dancefloor alongside new music curated by Young for L-E-V. Ben UFO DJs throughout.
Winner of the inaugural Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2019, International Award, Kimber Lee’s untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play (29 June – 22 July) makes its world premiere directed by Roy Alexander Weise (The Mountaintop) and designed by Moi Tran for the Royal Exchange Theatre as part of MIF23. The anticipated production, co-produced with the Young Vic and Headlong, jumps through time – wriggling inside of and then exploding lifetimes of repeating Asian stereotypes, wrestling history for the right to control your own narrative in a world that thinks it can tell you who you are.
A centrepiece of the Festival presented at Factory International’s flagship new venue, Yayoi Kusama’s You, Me and the Balloons (30 June – 28 Aug) will bring together three decades of the renowned Japanese artist’s spectacular inflatable artworks for the first time. Created especially for Factory International’s vast new warehouse space, You, Me and the Balloons will be Kusama’s largest ever immersive environment, featuring works over 10 metres tall. The exhibition will invite visitors to take an exhilarating journey through Kusama’s psychedelic creations including giant dolls, spectacular tendrilled landscapes and a vast constellation of polka-dot spheres.
Another visual art highlight, The Trequartista – Art and Football United brings together 11 contemporary artists and 11 footballers to produce new works inspired by the Trequartista, a legendary position and style in football that is rapidly disappearing. Co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and footballer Juan Mata, The Trequartista is conceptualised and developed by writer Josh Willdigg. 11 teams of footballers and artists will work together over two years, culminating in a group show at the 2025 edition of Manchester International Festival.
The project kicks off at MIF23 with a world premiere of This entry – a new work by artist Tino Sehgal, made with the involvement of Juan Mata and presented at the National Football Museum (29 June – 5 July) and the Whitworth (7 – 16 July). Known for artworks composed using exclusively the human body, voice and social interaction, Tino has exhibited his work at the world’s biggest art galleries – from New York’s Guggenheim to London’s Tate Modern, Paris’ Palais de Tokyo and Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun. This entry is a playful choreographic exchange between a footballer, violinist, cyclist and singing dancer.
At the Whitworth, Economics the Blockbuster: It’s Not Business As Usual (30 June – 22 October) presents a selection of extraordinary art projects that each operate as real-world economic systems. Together they propose new ways of ‘doing business’. Building on the Whitworth’s ongoing commitment to being a useful museum driven by a civic purpose, this project addresses economics as a social and financial set of relations that we all take part in. From a community-led drinks company to a crypto-financed youth agency, the exhibition includes new artist commissions, merchandise with a purpose, business collaborations and a live programme of talks and activities.
Manchester’s industrial history and modern-day architecture intertwine in a meditative new film by British artist and filmmaker Jenn Nkiru (from 29 June). In this new work for Virtual Factory, she weaves together new footage and archive material to explore parallels between architecture and the human body – and how they both shapeshift through time and space. Taking Manchester’s industrial history as a starting point, Nkiru’s short film pays homage to the people and culture that make up a city. This is the final commission in the Virtual Factory series, which invited artists to create online works inspired by the architecture and site of Factory International’s new space.
Known for award-winning Afro-futurist images that seem to defy gravity, Benji Reid invites us to watch him at play as he creates live photography in this genre-bending show, Find Your Eyes (12-16 July). A choreo-photolist, Benji combines photography, choreography and theatre to make striking and surreal images which speak to his experiences as a Black man in the UK today. The world premiere of his new show at MIF23 exposes the making of this work – a behind-the-scenes look at Benji’s life and practice where the stage becomes a studio. Choreographing three performers, Benji will create live photographs in front of an audience at Manchester Academy, interlacing the action with recollection of resonant moments from his life.
Over the past year young people, artists, madpride organisers, radical dreamers and disability justice doers have come together for mental health support that works. Balmy Army (1-15 July) is art and activism rolled into one, from sharing poetry to making placards, to social media takeovers and mass acts of civil disobedience. The gallery at HOME is the Balmy Army’s space to play and plan during the Festival. There are also a number of events in the works which anyone is welcome to join – including a rally through the streets of the city on the last weekend of the Festival celebrating young people making change. Balmy Army reminds us that mental health isn’t just about individuals – and that community, care and creativity are some of our greatest ways to heal.
A diverse programme of music is headlined by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe (30 June – 2 July), who will take up residency in the city performing for three nights over the opening weekend. Alison Goldfrapp (14 July) makes a welcome return to the Festival with music from her first solo foray, and John Grant and the Richard Hawley band (11 July) debut their new show singing the songs of pop and country legend Patsy Cline.
The Grammy-award winning Angélique Kidjo (4 July) performs her first show in Manchester in ten years with guest appearances from some fantastic emerging local talent, and revered Sufi singer Sanam Marvi will celebrate the rich culture and sound of Pakistan. The Comet Is Coming present Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (12 July) – a unique collision of the band’s cosmic sounds and filmmaker Daisy Dickinson’s transcendent visuals, and for one night only, Justin Vivian Bond (6 July) – a living legend of cabaret – will headline a night of trans excellence from TransCreative with a raucous and seductive evening of songs, stories and some very special guests. On the final weekend of MIF23, Factory Sounds alumni Sam Malik will present Desi Factory (15 July), a night with some of the best in the British South Asian new music scene featuring Ezu, Bambi Bains and BBC Asian Network’s Bobby Friction. Headlined by Zack Knight, more artists will be announced in spring.
Manchester’s inventive classical scene plays a key part at this year’s MIF, as electronic artist and BBC Radio 6 music host AFRODEUTSCHE premieres a new composition with the innovative Manchester Camerata (5 July), and Royal Northern College of Music partner with Anna Meredith (8 July) for a sensational performance of her Mercury Prize-shortlisted album FIBS as part of RNCM’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Manchester Collective and theatre company Slung Low will present a vibrant staging of Benjamin Britten’s community opera, Noah’s Flood (9 July) featuring Lemn Sissay live as the voice of God and 180 schoolchildren alongside a professional cast. The BBC Philharmonic will perform a world premiere by John Luther Adams, played by pianist Ralph Van Raat alongside new commissions by Ailís Ní Ríain and Alissa Firsova – all the works in the evening’s programme, Sonic Geography (7 July), are inspired by the climate crisis.
Festival Square relocates to its new home for MIF23, introducing visitors to Factory International’s outdoor spaces – a new riverside destination for Manchester – with live sets from over 100 live bands, artists and DJs and a wide variety of food and drink (30 June – 16 July). Full line-up and more details to come later this spring.
A series of collaborations at the Festival celebrate new openings, developments and milestones with cultural venues across the city. From 50 Hours of Freedom (14 July), a 50-hour lock-in at Contact with three local non-binary artists working with Danez Smith, marking 50 years of the city’s pioneering youth-led arts venue; to Modelling Queer Utopias, a behind-the-scenes tour of Salford’s newly redeveloped Islington Mill (1, 8, 15 July), a provocative and caring space where people make creativity their lives; to Sonics, stories and scenes of the Diaspora (1 July), a day-long takeover presented by SEEN Magazine and Manchester Museum in the ground-breaking new South Asia Gallery, celebrating the sounds of global majority and South Asian diaspora artists.