Entertainment & Arts

Massive Attack and Adam Curtis open Manchester festival

Elizabeth Fraser singing with giant screen
Image caption Vocalist Elizabeth Fraser sang as the documentary played on the giant screens

A documentary screening in a derelict train depot, with live music from Massive Attack, has opened the Manchester International Festival.

Shown on 11 giant screens, the latest film by director Adam Curtis captivated the audience at Mayfield Depot.

Massive Attack contributed sinister cover versions from behind the screens.

The 18-day festival also features Sir Kenneth Branagh playing Macbeth for the first time, and new plays starring Willem Dafoe and Maxine Peake.

At Mayfield Depot, Curtis' film wove archive footage of figures from Jane Fonda to Osama Bin Laden into a theory about how the public perception of reality can be manipulated.

Curtis, who was behind the Bafta-winning documentaries The Power of Nightmares and The Mayfair Set, said he wanted to create a hybrid of the concert and cinema experiences to forge a new form of "emotional journalism".

Using his trademark collages of clips, Curtis began by suggesting that utopian dreams in the US and USSR of changing the world for the better fell apart in the 1970s.

He went on to argue that politicians, economists and the media instead tried to ensure a safe and stable world by creating a fragile version of reality in which people were made to be terrified of risk, and data was used to predict and control behaviour.

Meanwhile, at various points during the screening, Massive Attack performed songs like Sugar, Sugar by The Archies and Dusty Springfield's The Look of Love and music by Siberian punk band Grob.

They were accompanied by regular vocalists Horace Andy and Elizabeth Fraser, but it was far from a conventional Massive Attack gig.

Their soundtrack often involved rumbling, rib-rattling bass, and the only recognisable Massive Attack song was what they described as a cover version of the Portishead remix of Karmacoma.

Image caption Macbeth is Sir Kenneth Branagh's first Shakespeare play since 2002

Audience member Matt Edgar said it was "probably like nothing you've ever experienced before".

"Once you were inside, you were captive with all the screens around you and you couldn't really look away," he said. "It's the sort of thing you'll probably still be thinking about in a couple of weeks, and trying to make sense of."

Another audience member, Jill Campion, said: "The surround thing was great. And I loved the volume and the intensity of the music, because you felt it.

"We've come out and we just want to talk about it, which is what art is about, isn't it? We don't want to go home. We want to sit here and say, what do you think?"

Thursday's show was the first time the public had been allowed into the crumbling Mayfield Depot since it shut as a passenger terminal in 1960. It then became a goods depot but has been empty since 1986.

It is one of a number of unusual venues being used in the festival.

Sir Kenneth Branagh is appearing in Macbeth in a deconsecrated church seating around 300 people. It is the actor's first Shakespeare play for more than a decade.

Crowd members have been warned not to wear their "best, light coloured, dry-clean only outfit or any easily stained fabrics" because they may get splattered by the mud that is used on stage.

The festival takes place every two years and specialises in world premieres in theatre, music and art.

Image caption US actor Willem Dafoe stars in the avant-garde play The Old Woman

US actor Willem Dafoe is starring with former ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in a play based on an absurd Russian novella, while Mercury Prize-winning band The xx are playing a residency of 18 gigs to just 60 fans at a time.

Other festival highlights include actress Maxine Peake in The Masque of Anarchy, based on a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley about the 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester.

Another play, titled The Machine, examines the ground-breaking chess battle between Garry Kasparov and computer Deep Blue in 1997 and is being staged by Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke.

An art exhibition titled Do It is based on written instructions left by artists for other artists and visitors to fulfil.

As well as the arts programme, the festival is also supporting The Biospheric Project, a scheme to turn a disused Salford mill into an urban agricultural hub that is investigating new ways of growing food.

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