Confidential's MIF rating: 19/20
Originality 4.5/5; Performances (acting etc) 5/5; Audience delight 4.5/5; Production 5/5
THERE is a lot a man who left school at sixteen can criticise about Manchester International Festival (MIF).
What they need to do now is realise that their job is not only about bringing the art world to Manchester, but equally it should be about educating and entertaining me.
Those criticisms can include the fact that in the (rather brilliant) pavilion on Albert Square, Poots (the festival gaffer) and co demonstrate a lack of empathy with Manchester and Mancunians by allowing only two beers to be sold. One fizzy and one not fizzy. Neither with any taste and neither from the region. This, whilst a local revolution has been taking place with artisan beer producers within a radius of ten square miles.
It’s not difficult to understand this when you realise that 95% of the MIF staff over the past six years, consuming millions of pounds of wages, take those pay packets back to London or elsewhere. They spend as little time as is humanly possible ‘Up North’.
It doesn’t help that the main media MIF partners upped sticks and buggered off to London at the first possible opportunity, fifty or so years ago, taking with them the Scott Trust millions and ditching the Manchester part of their title.
That would be The Manchester Guardian folks. Now the Guardian. It recently dumped the local paper, The Manchester Evening News, having used it as a cash cow for decades, selling it for a quid once the milk dried up to another London firm who promptly moved the paper to some place outside the city that I’ve never even visited. A bunch of very creative people are now expected to do great things in an environment one notch up from an Indian call centre.
An example of MIF’s main media partner’s attitude to Mancunia in general?
They have produced The Guardian Guide to the Manchester International Festival to help MIF apologise to their arty visitors for Mancunia in general using a mask of ‘sarcasm’. Oh, and it’s handed out free to everyone at the pavilion and, presumably, at all the tourist centres.
This Guardian Guide has a ‘Tribes of Manchester’ section which is supposed to be funny. It is truly cringe-making, a series of half-gags that have been re-told ten thousand times.
‘The Scally may permanently have his hands down his pants, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is dealing drugs or carrying a knife. He is probably just scratching his balls.’
The Chorlton Bohos; ‘a real sense of community, but most Mancunians couldn’t afford a house there.'
The Cheshire Set; ‘At MIF? Not unless Colleen Rooney has created a site-specific theatre piece about shoes in Selfridges.’
The Northern Quarter Hipsters; ‘They may get a bit too excited about some crazy T-shirt they’ve just designed, but at least they’re doing something, eh?'
The Hacienda Man; ‘Just don’t ask him what Spike Island was like, unless you have two hours to spare.’
Excellent choice of Media there MIF. The Guardian’s attitude to Mancunia hasn’t changed. Who the fuck do you think you all are?
Which brings me to The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic.
I didn’t have a clue what this was about and was looking forward to giving it a good kicking. So, who the fuck is Marina Abramovic?
Marina Abramovic is a performance artist.
Like most great artists, she had a childhood which was challenging, uncomfortable and sometimes violent. She wasn’t allowed to stay out after 10pm by a disturbed mother until she was 29.
When her mother found out that the shy and retiring, later to be known as ‘Grand Dame of Performance Art’, was performing by hanging upside down naked in the local square, Marina was going to get some.
But not a clip round the ear for our heroine. Mummy confronted her dressed in a Stalinist soldier’s uniform.
“I gave you life and therefore, it is my right to take it away from you,” screams mummy, promptly hurling a heavy, cut crystal glass ash tray at Marina’s head.
Marina has had a love-hate relationship with mum until her death a few years ago; looking at her career, which includes suffocating herself, carving a star into her stomach and sitting still on a chair on stage for three months, this writer is not surprised that she has been described as a sadomasochist. Really?
“Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats; you are missing things on stage already.”
There was a stampede. It seems that Mrs A likes to wrong foot the punters, the show actually started early.
And what a start; it’s Marina’s funeral, only there are three of her lying in coffins, hauntingly lit (by AJ Weissbard, great stuff all the way through) on a stage scattered with large bones. Then three black, hungry-looking Dalmatians come on and wander around, sniffing. For ten minutes. Weird. Finally, some haunting music comes wafting its way to me in the circle, as if born on a wave of bespoke perfume from a shop next door to The Hotel d’Alsace.
Then, we have Willem Dafoe appearing on his own little stage at the side of the orchestra pit; at first looking like an homage to Heath Ledger in his role of The Joker in Batman, Dafoe is the narrator of what becomes clear is a biography of Mrs A’s life done as a musical.
It is, readers, mesmeric. And for Dafoe, a tour de force. This guy is worth the ticket price alone.
To underline the fact that Mrs A clearly doesn’t mind being bound and beaten from time to time, she plays her mother. In the horniest black velvet gown you ever did see. It needs to be said that Abramovic at sixty four years of age looks fantastic. I would. Definitely.
Antony, of Antony and The Johnsons fame, has written, and performs, ‘a handful’ of songs throughout the piece, partnering at times with Christopher Nell, a counter tenor who is on line to become a great.
Antony, looking like something out of my imagination when first reading Dune at eighteen, goes shoulder to shoulder with Dafoe for best performance of their life gong. I loved the pet lobster. No doubt my artistic betters will be able to tell me the relevance of this, a nod to the master of surrealism, Dali, perhaps? I just thought it charming and witty.
Which speaks for the whole piece. Charming and witty. With lots of salt and vinegar. Oh. Engaging and HUGELY entertaining. Thought provoking. I could go on…
It’s a shocking story for most people to discover, as stated, Abramovic had a difficult upbringing.
Most people involved in the arts, certainly on the periphery, with their perfect childhoods full of loving, nut avoiding parents who sent their offspring to do a ‘posh totty’ degree at Oxford and Cambridge will be appalled by the artist’s upbringing. They would never have delivered the slaps endured by Marina at the hand of a clearly loony mother. But, girls and boys, Marina, I am pretty sure, will not regret one sting on the cheek. Because adversity breeds character.
Which Abramovic has in great big steel bucket loads.
The experience has made her what she is, and has brought us Mancunians a spectacle that everyone of us should try and understand. Abramovic is a Grand Dame; we should feel privileged to watch her cut off an ear in front of us.
And this is where I have to quit my moanin’ and a groanin’ about Poots and MIF; for me they have delivered magnificently with just this one piece (and judging by the reviews elsewhere on this site, with most of the other content too).
What they need to do now is realise that their job is not only about bringing the art world to Manchester, but equally it should be about educating people like me, about Marina Abramovic and her strange but fascinating world.
MIF should broaden its remit and promote itself to Mancunia with more than illegible flags down Princess Parkway. You need, for example, to market Doctor Who as Doctor Who, and not The Crash of the Elysium. By not calling it Doctor Who and The Crash of the Elysium they have ensured large numbers of non-art world Manchester punters have missed out on being involved in MIF.
If you are reading this, performance art is one thing, paying the rent is another. Don’t listen to sycophants, call it a musical.
With work like this those money worries mentioned by Dafoe must be a thing of the past for Abramovic. That would have been achieved earlier if the marketing had been right from the beginning and attracted more people like me.
The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic is at The Lowry until Saturday 16 July. Tickets from £15-£39.50. www.mif.co.uk
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