The international fest of new theatre is back, with everything from blind cinema to Nazi deserters and a utopian simulation of a night out

Last week at HOME, something strange happened: a group of ghosts in sunglasses performed an otherworldly dance to opera music. But no, we weren’t having a 'bad trip' - this was the press launch of Flare, a biennial event of ground-breaking emerging theatre from across both Britain and the globe. 

Taking place over five days (4-8 July) it coincides with another international arts festival that goes by the familiar acronym of MIF. But there is a key difference between Manchester International Festival and Flare, said Artistic Director Walter Meierjohann during Thursday’s opening presentation: Flare focuses on giving a platform to upcoming talent. 

Meierjohann went to the same acting institute as Thomas Ostermeier; the acclaimed theatre director who this year will be bringing his show Returning to Reims to MIF. While he may be a ‘theatre superstar’ now, known for his unconventional approach and his work at Berlin’s famous Schaubühne, Meierjohann remembers when Ostermeier was putting on plays as a relatively unknown talent. Flare, in a sense, previews ‘the Thomases of the future.’

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HOME is one of multiple venues hosting performances
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Thomas Ostermeier Jérémie Cuvillier

This year’s episode promises to be the best yet, with ‘around 60 of the best new international theatre artists’ congregating in Manchester for a programme packed with challenging, exciting and innovative performance. Venues taking part include HOME, Royal Exchange Theatre, The Lowry and Contact; while the Flare Hub will take up the old Cornerhouse building at No. 70 Oxford Street. Martin Harris Centre, meanwhile, will host Future Flares; a student and recent graduates strand that showcases ‘high-quality experimental works and works-in-progress.’ 

Flare Director Neil Mackenzie said: “In the current political state of the UK and beyond, it is critical that we collaborate with our international peers. Migration and artistic movement will become harder in post-Brexit Britain. It is our aim as an international festival - and as advocates of emerging experimental theatre - to bring together the international community of radical theatre artists to inform and enrich theatre practice in this country.” 

From nudity in the dark to political no-man’s land, Flare17’s visceral programme really does know no borders: full listings below…  

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Molar is an acclaimed and highly energetic interactive solo performance about happiness


Netherlands company BOG present an award-winning solo by Lisa Verbelen in ONE, which sees the Musical Theatre graduate sing an ambitious choir piece designed for four voices. Driven by a beautiful rolling score, the performance becomes a reflection on movement and loneliness. Meanwhile, Leopard Murders - by Swiss theatre group K.U.R.S.K - is a brave, unflinching look at populist politics through the story of George Elbrecht. A Nazi criminal during WW1, Elbrecht appeared to forget about this post-war and instead became a peace activist. When you’re dedicated to fighting the establishment, does it matter whether you’re left or right? K.U.R.S.K argues that some politicians seem to think not.   

HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN (8pm; tickets £8-12). 

CONTACT DOUBLE BILL | Contact Theatre | Wednesday 5 July 

Those aforementioned ghosts in sunnies return for Grand Applause: a unique and startling 'performed exhibition', in which mavericks Guillem Mont de Palol & Jorge Dutor (ES) take us on an extraordinary visual journey, accompanied by a guest Manchester choir and the western world's most performed opera, Carmen. After that, it’s time for Beauty and the Beast by Enis Turan (TR/DE), an exploration of gender and queertopia that’s both ironic and sincere. 

Contact Theatre, Oxford Road, M15 6JA (8pm; tickets £8-12). 

FUTURE FLARES DOUBLE BILL | Martin Harris Centre | Wednesday 5 July 

MMU’s Dead Pig present A Work of Art that’s ‘trapped for eternity between process and product, exploring the vacant concept of originality’ (no, we don’t know either). This is followed by Emma Gannon’s Civilisation, which explores a concept dominating our current political landscape - that of ‘us and them’ - through storytelling.  

Martin Harris Centre, The University of Manchester, Bridgeford Street, M13 9PL (5pm; tickets £4-6).

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BLIND CINEMA | The Flare Hub | 5-6 July

In the darkness of a cinema space, the audience sits blindfolded. Behind each row of audience members is a row of children who, in hushed voices, describe a film only they can see. Britt Hatzius (BE) present an intimate exploration of communication and language in this immersive and unique performance.  

The Flare Hub, the old Cornerhouse building, No. 70  Oxford Street, M1 5NH (1pm; tickets £4-6).

PARTY | The Flare Hub | 5-8 July 

PARTY is an extraordinary and immersive dance and audio show for ten spectators at the time. Alluding to elements of our collective memory and popular culture, the piece creates a utopian simulation of a night out - blurring the line between reality and representation. A Beaches production (ES).

The Flare Hub, the old Cornerhouse building, No. 70  Oxford Street, M1 5NH (12 & 2.30pm; tickets £4-6).

FUTURE FLARES DOUBLE BILL #2 | Martin Harris Centre | Thursday 6 July

For this second double bill at the Martin Harris Centre, seven students from the KASK School of Arts - under the direction of Mole Wetherell (BE) - recall fond memories in Boys will be Girls and Girls will be Boys. After that, Tin Can People (UK) celebrate the heart-warming relationship between Katie & Pip: a diabetic teenager and her lifesaving border collie. With support from Andy Smith. 

Martin Harris Centre, The University of Manchester, Bridgeford Street, M13 9PL (5pm; tickets £4-6).

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Sprachspeil has proved popular across Belgium, Holland and Germany


Does the thought of dancing in public send you into a cold sweat? Watch Baardeman and you might feel differently, as Simon de Winne & Tibaldus (BE) present a surprisingly touching and energetic exploration of movement and identity. Castle Rock (UK) follow with Massive Owl, a distortion of the film Stand By Me. Amidst flashing neon lights, a boy with a death wish encounters a deer in black patent stilettos. Well, we did say ‘distortion…’ 

HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN (8pm; tickets £8-12). 

MOLAR | Royal Exchange | Friday 7 July

An acclaimed and highly energetic interactive solo performance about happiness - the way we move and are moved - this Spanish festival favourite by Quim Bigas Bassart (ES) reflects on the commercialisation of human emotion. A free event, Molar takes place in the Royal Exchange Great Hall. 

Royal Exchange, St Ann's Square, M2 7DH (1pm; free). 

SPRACHSPIEL| Royal Exchange | Friday 7 July

This mesmerising performance by Geert Belpaeme & Mats Van Herreweghe (BE) has proved popular across Belgium, Holland and Germany. As two performers dally on the edges of communication, the power of body language is taken to a whole new level. Who needs understanding when you have play? 

Royal Exchange, St Ann's Square, M2 7DH (2.30 & 7.30pm; tickets £8-12).

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FUTURE FLARES: RISE TO VERTEX | Martin Harris Centre | Friday 7 July 

In homage to the mythologist Joseph Campbell, Stitch Theatre (UK) playfully explore the hero’s journey, and how this archetypal narrative is traced by the heroes of myth, religion, modern pop culture and our everyday lives. 

Martin Harris Centre, The University of Manchester, Bridgeford Street, M13 9PL (5pm; tickets £4-6). 

THE LOWRY DOUBLE BILL | The Lowry | Friday 7 July 

Breathe (Everything Is Going To Be Okay) is a full body immersion of soaring strings and spiralling sound in a daringly vulnerable solo performance exploring the relationship between our bodies and minds. Following Alicia Jane Turner’s unflinchingly honest dissection of anxiety and survival, fellow Londoner Tom Cassini explores how deception really works in Someone Loves You Drive with Care. How do conjurors manipulate truth - and why do we believe in it? 

The Lowry, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ (8pm; tickets £8-12). 

ACTRESSES ALWAYS LIE | Royal Exchange | Saturday 8 July 

El Pollo Campero, Comidas Para Llevar (ES) continue the theme of lying, as we’re taken through the dreams and realities of two Spanish women. Once scraping a living as actresses, they’ve taken the roles and lived the part - now it’s time to come clean. Mixing cabaret, dance and theatrical performance, this is a show that blurs the lines between autobiography and fiction; bringing us up close and personal with two people caught in the act of playing a role. 

Royal Exchange, St Ann's Square, M2 7DH (2.30 & 7.30pm; tickets £8-12). 

HOME DOUBLE BILL #3 | HOME | Saturday 8 July

After critical acclaim across Europe, Flare brings Boose Provoost’s (BE) award-winning Moore Bacon! to Manchester for its UK premiere. Presented at HOME in almost pitch darkness, the show plays with the spectator’s eye; creating a visual spectacle in both reality and imagination. The festival ends with an explosion of energetic gig theatre, as Nineties Productions (NL) play a fictitious tribute band inspired by the troublesome and disturbed character of beat poet Charles Bukowski

HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN (8pm; tickets £8-12). 

Image credits: Manuel Vason (Tom Cassini) and Paul Samuel White (Castle Rock)