Review of the Year 2017 - The North West Stage

Reporter: David Chadderton

Dateline: 31st December, 2017

Manchester International Festival

John McGrath's first programme as Artistic Director of Manchester International Festival was quite an interesting mix.

What If Women Ruled the World was an intriguing mixture of the script of Dr Strangelove with a real panel discussion between female experts in different areas on how the world could be a better place on a set that was a faithful recreation of the war room in the Kubrick film.

In theory, I should be more in the target audience for the Simon Stephens script Fatherland, created in collaboration with director and choreographer Scott Graham and musician Karl Hyde, but this piece at the Royal Exchange I found quite entertaining but pretty superficial.

Cotton Panic was an intriguing idea, dealing with the relationship between the Lancashire cotton mills and the cotton growing trade of the US in the mid-nineteenth century in a performance in a Victorian market hall, but sadly it didn't work at all.

One interesting and quirky idea that did work well was a collaboration between theatre company Improbable and Scottish Opera on an opera targetted at an audience of babies. I saw BambinO when it was touring small towns around Greater Manchester, although I got the impression from talking to some parents that audiences had mostly travelled into the area rather than being from the town where it was performed.

But my highlight of this year's MIF, by a long way, was Returning to Reims from Schaubühne Berlin, which was partly the story of recording the voice-over to a film of Didier Eribon's memoir of the same name but then the actors' own lives bled into the story and the issues it raised about class and nationalism in a very clever and subtle way. At the centre of it was an incredible performance from Nina Hoss, relating the story of her own father, Willi Hoss.

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