Editorial: MIF takes over Manchester

Maria Roberts on the starry – and pricey – Manchester International Festival

Here in Manchester we’ve been enjoying a heatwave that just so happened to coincide with Manchester International Festival (4-21 July). This was a stroke of luck as for the past few weeks we have been able to recline in deckchairs on Festival Square and listen to musicians on the stage.

Except – it was pretty difficult to hear the musicians, so perhaps ‘watch them strum’ is a more accurate description than ‘listen to musicians’. Or perhaps ‘watch them strum’ is again not quite right. I got the sense something was happening on stage. Anyway, there was a stage, there were people, there was fancy food.

It’s been fabulous having the festival here. Starry Hollywood names such as Willem Dafoe in The Old Woman, and Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth (though one fan I met called called him Kevin Branagh) gave the festival a sense of weight and validity. Truly famous actors here? Never!

But I’m going to be a little mean and say that whilst MIF is a festival for the people of Manchester, it also sort of isn’t for the people of Manchester. MIF has its own set of standards: venues are converted and discovered, collaborations are encouraged, big names are welcomed and celebrity chefs provide tiny pies at huge prices.

The average Manchester man or woman on the street would struggle to take a family of four to an MIF production. There was a cheap ticket option (GBP12 / €14), but you had to be on a very low wage to make the most of it. Average salary? Then you’d be on rations for six months if you wanted to  take your family of four to three main shows and feel you’d had a festival experience. And then it would set you back close to GBP350 (€407) – all this for about six hours of fun.

I was also pretty miffed that on one of the hottest days of the year, when I crammed my son and partner into warehouse to stand for 90 minutes, at the cost of £108, they were selling bottled water at GBP2.50 – water for free on a dangerously hot day, surely?

MIF came and went without a bang. No opening hoopla, no closing hoopla – unlike Brisbane Festival’s free laser light spectacle Santos GLNG City of Lights spectacular (7-27 September). Twice a night, three times at weekends, against a backdrop of water features, colourful lasers and lights ignite the city. It’s a colourful gift to the people.

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