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Manchester International Festival: first review

While Richard Fair over at the BBC Manachester Blog gives behind-the-scenes updates of MIF, I thought I’d do some reviews from the punter’s point of view.

First up, I saw the final pre-festival commission earlier this week: Queen and Country by the Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen. It’s pretty underwhelming, to be honest – just one unmarked oak cabinet full of stamps. It’s also awkward to open and, sitting in the middle of Central Library, isn’t something you can really discuss. People are predictably making a big deal out of it, however, so go and make your own mind up. It’s free to view from 10am until 6pm until July 15.

On Wednesday I made it down to the second Monkey: Journey to the West preview night. Ten pounds sounded like a bargain for such a high-profile event at the Palace Theatre, but I’d advise anyone considering going to splash the cash on good seats. Though it was visually one of the best thing I’ve seen, the subtitles were obscured by a dozen heads, meaning I had only a vague idea of what was being said and sung – a complaint repeated on the MIF forum.

James Hewlett’s visuals were up to his usual high standards though, and Damon Albarn’s mark was obvious through the unashamedly Gorillaz-y beats and plinky piano riffs. But a friend suggested the team had a checklist of acrobatic and circus cliches and after hearing my description of the show (more musical than opera) another said it sounded like the storyline to a Mario computer game. Monkey is on until July 7 with tickets priced £10 to £42.50.

Finally, yesterday was the second day of Manchester Dines, a free event at Manchester Central showcasing ten of the city’s restaurants. They ranged from the obvious (Yang Sing, Shimla Pinks) to the more unusual (Doug’s Take Away in Hulme) to, er, Waxy O’Connors. It wasn’t exactly fine dining – plastic plates, wooden cutlery etc – but I’ve taken away a couple of new ideas for where to visit in the future, so job well done. Manchester Dines finishes today and is fully booked up anyway.

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An update on Monkey: I went on Tuesday this week and the subtitles ‘issue’ continues – a real shame, as it marred a fantastic performance for me (and everyone else who had seats in the stalls). I’ve posted a grumble on MIF’s forum and am curious as to why it wasn’t addressed in the 7 days between dress rehearsals and me seeing the performance. Bah.

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