Beauty scale

Treating the pandemic at the Manchester International Festival


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Gregory Maqoma’s widely varied choreography for these dancers (as well as Thulani Chauke on two large screens at the sides of the stage – a nod to travel issues during Covid-19) and Garratt’s ventriloquist skills were the best. parts of the show with an uneven rhythm, which meandered from one room to another.

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The strongest piece of performance was, surprisingly, a film installation. In the sprawling Manchester Center (a former train station), flashing lights and buzzing electronic surround sound (by Aaron, Bryce Dessner and Jon Hopkins) pierced the cavernous space before the start of “All of This Unreal Time”, a collaboration between actor Cillian Murphy (“Peaky Blinders”) and writer Max Porter, directed by Aoife McArdle.

Murphy and Porter have previously worked together on the theatrical adaptation of “Grief Is the Thing With Feathers”, and as with this work, the text here is a strange and wonderful assemblage of story, reflection, soliloquy, myth and poetry. “I came here to apologize” read on the screen before we saw Murphy walk through a dark, dripping tunnel.

As he walks through the night, dilapidated streets and past cafes lit all night long, Murphy’s character speaks of his shame, anger and fears as he confesses his failures as a man. (“Sororhood, now it’s something to be envied”). “I’m sorry I took, took, took, took, took, took, took and enriched without interruption and left deep scars on the skin of the earth,” he says towards the end, at which point he walks across a field outside the city, the sky lighting up, trains passing, birds flocking.

McArdle keeps the pace tight, the focus on Murphy, his fleeting and sharp cutaways. Seen on a giant screen, the sound swelling and fading like the echoes of nature itself alongside the musical rhythms of the text, “All This Unreal Time” (available to watch online) is a fascinating and truly immersive journey that – like all good art – keeps the possibilities of meaning fully open.

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