If this is the end of the world, where's the peril? - David Blake


The Apocalypse. Doomsday. The End of Days. Recurring subject matter in any culture, but one, in these precarious days of Trump, climate change, North Korea, cyber threats, fake news, radicalism, nationalism and Love Island, that is increasingly pertinent.

Earlier this year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BPA) – a collection of international award-winning scientists and academics (some Nobel Prize winners) - moved the hand of the symbolic Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes to midnight. This is, supposedly, the closet humanity has been to global catastrophe since 1953, when the Soviet Union announced it had hydrogen bomb capabilities (the US had detonated its first mere months earlier).

Cheerful stuff, and the subject of several Manchester International Festival (MIF) commissions this year; from What if Women Ruled the World?, where Israeli artist Yael Bartana reimagines the war room of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove populated by women; to Last and First Men, ‘a breath-taking requiem for the final human species in civilization’. 

At the more fanciful end of this enormity is Party Skills for the End of the World, an immersive, apocalyptic adventure by theatre makers Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari, and visual artist Abigail Conway, which promises to teach partygoers the ‘essential skills you’ll need to survive and savour life’ when the end finally comes.

Party Skills For The End Of The World
Learning to make a lava lamp

That such a performance should take place within a building facing its own extinction seems fitting. Once the pinnacle of British architecture, winning the first Sterling Prize in 1996, Salford University’s Centenary Building now sits abandoned, hidden behind trees and hemmed in between tired residential blocks and sprawling car parks, staring down the barrel of a new campus masterplan. 

Though, as we watch a baggy-shorted volunteer catapult what look like dead birds at the upper windows of the building, in an effort to shock those learning to make martinis above (because of course the best way to cope with annihilation is to get annihilated), perhaps the building would rather we save it the indignity and call in the wrecking ball. 

Party Skills For The End Of The World 2
Rave at the end of the world

Once we’ve mastered the tricky art of both drinking and talking it’s down into the central street of the building where actors on the levels above perform a sort of musical helicopter landing signal routine while dropping oranges into the crowd below. Being encouraged to peel the orange and then stitch it back together as though it were your ‘lover’s flesh’ is as disturbing as it is frustrating. 

Then it’s up into the gangways, where partygoers scuttle over steel bridges between glass studios dropping into workshops ranging from rabbit skinning to napkin folding and herb cultivation. Some of the skills are enjoyable (if mostly pointless in a crisis), like learning to play Nirvana’s Teen Spirit on guitar or blow dart a piece of fruit (bring a spear). While others just grate, such as the person teaching us how to detect a lie while stuttering through a series of handwritten notes, or learning to Rumba while being disrupted by a steady procession of new people entering the room. 

No sooner have we visited a handful of rooms when the rumble of aircraft and the whistle of dropping bombs sends the crowd scurrying into the bowels of the building. Along dark corridors of flickering light, sketchy rooms and shouty volunteers we find the party room, where two instrumentalists thrash away and a bar tender serving drinks from a bin bends people over five quid for cans of supermarket G&T (amazing how even here, facing oblivion, we're still getting shafting for booze). 

Then a bloke who was earlier dancing like a pillock sits us all down and tells us some very deep things about our parents not loving us because we're ugly. Now he's back to dancing like a pillock. Now I’m dancing like a pillock. We're all dancing like pillocks. Hey we’re having fun. I’m even making a balloon dog (which refuses to look anything but phallic). Some people are in the kitchen dunking biscuits into tea.

Hold on. Tea. Biscuits.

If this is the end of the world then it’s all gone a bit Father Ted. Where’s the peril? The anarchy? The cannibalism? Aren't we supposed to be at least a little scared? But then, with so much to genuinely worry about on the outside, maybe we should just blow it all on booze and make balloon willies.

Party Skills for the End of the World runs until Sun 16 July. Find out more about this year's Manchester International Festival via their website, or follow Confidential for more MIF news and reviews