2015 was a year of new directions for some of the major festivals in the North West.
The latest Manchester International Festival was the last under the leadership of Alex Poots before former Contact Theatre Artistic Director John E McGrath, currently Artistic Director and Chief Executive of National Theatre Wales, takes the reigns. Fiona Gasper will take over as MIF Executive Director, leaving the same post at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
This festival didn't seem to make a major impact with any of its productions this year, although some were interesting.
Songwriter Damon Albarn recently upset a few people in the city when he complained that the critics for MIF flagship production wonder.land reviewed it as a finished piece but it was only 45% complete. Perhaps if it had been advertised—and priced—as a half-finished work-in-progress it would have been reviewed as such. Interestingly, some reviewers have said of its current run at the National Theatre, presumably now complete, that it still needs work.
In the rest of the festival, The Skriker was a revival of a fairly incomprehensible Caryl Churchill play with an intense performance from Maxine Peake for which the Royal Exchange was impressively reconfigured and Crocodile was an interesting piece of Russian absurdism based on Dostoevsky which stretched its short story material rather too thinly. I heard some great things about Tree of Codes but didn't get to see it.
After celebrating its tenth birthday in 2013, Manchester's leading new writing theatre festival, 24:7, was rewarded by the loss of its NPO status for Arts Council funding.
This year, following co-founder David Slack's receipt of a Special Achievement Award at the Manchester Theatre Awards for his creation and continued leadership of the festival, 24:7 had its Big Weekend, a cut-down version of its usual format with just four full productions.
Two, We Are the Multitude by Laura Harper and Gary: A Love Story by James Harker, were excellent; the others, The Plant by James Kerr and Madness Sweet Madness by Georgina Tremayne, didn't really work at all.
There was a packed programme of other events in the Big Weekend, which took place for the first time at the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama at the University of Manchester, including an interesting outdoor promenade production of monologues inspired by leading figures from Manchester's history, Brief Encounters.
24:7 will continue in a new format which has yet to be announced, other than that it is likely to be every two years, alternating with MIF.
Flare Festival has gone from strength to strength, this year presenting a six-day programme of new, radical theatre from the UK, Europe and Australasia at leading Manchester venues Royal Exchange Theatre, Contact Theatre, Z-arts and Martin Harris Centre.
Over in Liverpool, Tmesis Theatre once again ran its Physical Fest featuring eight days of performances and workshops from leading physical theatre practitioners.
Greater Manchester Fringe Festival reported that, at its 2015 festival, more than 15,000 people saw performances of 96 registered shows at venues across the city and beyond.
HOME Manchester held its ninth and final Re:play Festival in January, which brought back some of the best fringe productions seen in Manchester during the previous year, at its pop-up theatre space in the office block at Number One First Street. It has been announced that it will be replaced by a new event, PUSH Festival, which will bring seven productions from Manchester companies, some of which haven't been seen in the city before, to its second theatre space.