Hayden Naughton takes the red pill for the opening production at Aviva Studios

Totally subjective rating: 9/10 for a show that will dazzle even the dance-illiterate

What: Free Your Mind 

Where: Aviva Studios

When: 13 October to 5 November

What Factory International says: Specially created to celebrate the opening of our new venue, Free Your Mind is a journey into The Matrix through dance and immersive design. As our official opening show, this never-seen-before production stretches across the building’s ultra-flexible spaces. 

What we say: I have freed my mind and am not only writing, I’m writing about dance. What a world.

I feel like I have to declare a few interests. The Matrix is a seminal film in my cultural source code. It’s that one film I might have watched a bit too young but fascinated me regardless. It was a dystopian digital enigma to me and instead of learning Kung Fu, it set me on a path of wanting to create films. Another pillar of me being a film production student (yes, production not studies) was the works of Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later and 127 Hours in particular. “A director from Radcliffe won an Oscar”, was a phrase that was repeated time and time again whilst I was at uni.

2023 10 20 Free Your Mind Review 3 © Tristram Kenton
Free Your Mind Image: Tristram Kenton

Anyway, Free Your Mind is a combination of two things I love with something I’m not best equipped to explain to you; dance. Besides having to sit through Strictly… with my mum and eventually getting to a point where I could say something like "How do you do an Argentine tango that bad”, I’m no expert and I would add, despite coming alarmingly close to picking GCSE dance, I cannot dance. 

Opening night of Factory International and it’s packed out with artists, thinkers and drag queens. It feels very apt that this is the most buzz I’ve seen here, despite visiting the site in several stages (the most recent being You, Me and the Balloons). Walking into the lobby of Aviva Studios (Alan Yentob held the door for me, which set the tone for the crowd) you could tell people here wanted to see what all the fuss was about, where all the money had gone and what this space could do.

2023 10 20 Free Your Mind Review © Tristram Kenton
Free Your Mind Image: Tristram Kenton

We’re beckoned to start taking our seats in The Hall, and given a coloured wristband, randomly assigned red and blue. The space looks like a normal, humble, traditional stage setup. It starts with an ode to Turing and the birth of computing, an easy win in Manchester but also something poignant and to get the ball rolling. There are surprises, moments and incredible choreography on show. I don’t wish to spoil a thing about it but as with most Factory International projects, the scale is impressive. It’s a big cardboard box, you can turn that box into a spaceship with the right artistry and imagination. The production of the first half seems to set you up for the second, it ends with a crescendo and then the audience is given the simple instructions to follow the white rabbit.

Blue wristbands and red are split. Fans of the films will like this nod but there is no better colour to get. The second half I could only perhaps compare to the MIF '19 Skepta concert. The stage is set as a runway with a screen that’s impossibly wide, depicting upon arrival a humble game of pong. Again, I don’t wish to spoil, but what you see is unlike anything you’ve probably seen before. Your head will move from side to side more than in the Wimbledon final. There’s so many nods to digital consumption, our Facebook/Google/Apple/Coca-Cola overlords and as a Head of Social/Content who makes so much content on his phone I felt attacked and I loved it.

2023 10 20 Free Your Mind Review 2 © Tristram Kenton
Free Your Mind Image: Tristram Kenton

The music in this white enormous runway booms and swells, it has nods to the soundtrack of the original film but brings in a theme that is equal to any cinematic score. The dancers are a mix of local (I swear I recognised one) and London but representation is diverse and the show is stronger for it. 

When it comes to Free Your Mind, I took the red pill and had no regrets. See it if you love dance, The Matrix or just have a natural curiosity of the potential of Factory International.

Free Your Mind, Aviva Studios, Water Street, M3 4JQ

Header image credit: Daniel Devlin

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