Our critics take in Rooted in Rhyme, Laurent Garnier, Notes on Grief and more

There must be have been some point in time when the bods behind Manchester International Festival had to seriously consider calling it off. Luckily for us, they persisted. Restrictions have meant that the organisers have pivoted to add in a strong online presence, plus a focus on the Manchester community which couldn't have come at a better time. While MIF might look a little different this time around, a chance to celebrate culture is a much-needed tonic and a great taster for all that The Factory will have to offer when it opens.

Even if you can't get tickets to your preferred performance this year, there is a chance to catch up with an online viewing for many of the shows, while some of the exhibitions will remain in the places after the festival is officially over. Another way to soak up the festival atmosphere is to head down to Festival Square with its free daily line-up of artists and top-notch scran. See you down there.

All This Unreal Time A Film Installation At Manchester Central As Part Of Manchester International Festival
All Of This Unreal Time


This was my first introduction to MIF this year and walking into Manchester Central’s cavernous space, with its atmospheric soundtrack and Warehouse Project-worthy lighting, it felt like a special moment. Part short film, part immersive installation, All Of This Unreal Time was quite a profound experience. There were moments when Max Porter’s writing - recounted by Cillian Murphy on screen as he trudges through an empty lockdown London in the middle of the night - really struck a chord with me. I’d implore everyone to stream it at home with the lights off and the volume up and embrace the feels. Davey Brett

Manchester Central, Windmill Street, M2 3GX, 1 July - 4 July, £15; Young MIF £5; lower-waged GM residents £10 now available as a video on demand

Rotted In Rhyme At Manchester International Festival
Victoria Jane performs


Rooted in Rhyme, “a journey deep into Manchester’s hip hop underground” is a line up of some of our city’s most popular and emerging hip hop talent. 

The partnership between Manchester based Unity Radio and the Manchester Hip Hop archive is juxtaposed with the sheer vastness of the Manchester Central Convention Complex. The voyage through the underground feels rather more sterile as the effects of Covid force spectators to stay fully masked while sitting in their seats.

Undeterred, the artist’s energy fills the space. Victoria Jane treats us to her soulful voice and masterful lyrics about love and loss and 27-year-old Lady Ice from Old Trafford commands the crowd with her powerful message. She is a force to be reckoned with, and at a time when there are so few UK based female rappers, her resilience led her to start her own label, All I See Records.

Other acts include now international DJ Semtex, as well as Ragoloco, DJ G-A-Z - best DJ at the Urban Music Awards 2020 - and Unity’s DJ Basha. There is also currently a special free exhibition at Manchester Central Library celebrating 40 years of Manchester’s Hip Hop heritage.

Damn it feels good to watch live music again. Sophie Rahnema

Manchester Central, Windmill Street, M2 3GX, 10 July, £22.50, Young MIF £15; lower-waged GM residents £10

Uche Abuah In Notes On Grief As Part Of Manchester International Festival Photo Credit Tristram Kenton
Uche Abuah in Notes on Grief


A lot of people are going relate to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes On Grief. Originally published as an essay in The New Yorker, then a book and now a stage play debuted at MIF, like a lot of this year’s programme it’s a timely and relevant piece of performance. I found it to be quite an emotional experience. It made me think about my own dad and my nephew who was born in Australia last year and who I probably won’t see for years. It also brought to mind society’s supposed roadmap for grief and how the pandemic has turned that on its head. Moving, perfectly executed and a real elevation of Adichie’s original piece. Davey Brett

Exchange Auditorium, Manchester Central, Windmill Street, M2 3GX, £15; Young MIF £5; lower-waged GM residents £10. Also available to watch as video on demand

Cloud Studies People Watching On Beanbags At The Whtiworth
Cloud Studies at the Whitworth


There’s one word I keep coming back to when reflecting on my experience of Cloud Studies and that word is “harrowing”. Many of us are feeling extra-vulnerable at the moment and the constant low rumble of anxiety in my stomach probably wasn’t the best appetiser for the bitter pill presented in this series of graphic (in multiple senses of the word) depictions of deliberate air toxicity. Don’t be fooled by the fluffy little cloud connotations in the name, the clouds we’re studying here are those made by the likes of bombs, chemical weapons and tear gas. Colourful moving graphs, sensory maps, and horrifying footage of wars and violently policed protests are coupled with overdubbed narrations of stark first-hand reports and cold hard statistics. If you’re already depressed at the state of the world, this could seriously send you under (and nearly did me) but at the same time, it’s an essential look at the state of humanity. Go for a walk afterwards in leafy Whitworth park and feel the gratitude and (if you’re anything like me) guilt wash over you.

Behind Cloud Studies is Forensic Architecture, a research agency working heavily in the area of human rights violations and based at Goldsmith's University in London. As well as presenting its work in galleries, it can also be found in places like courtrooms, UN assemblies and lecture rooms. The question that always arises with exhibitions like this is: Is it art though? What constitutes art is an age-old argument but I think art reflects the human experience back at us (however bleak it may be), challenges us, causes an emotional reaction, and is visually arresting. Cloud Studies ticks all those boxes for me. Kelly Bishop

The Whitworth, Oxford Road, M15 6ER  2 July - 17 October, free (ticket required before 19 July)

Laurent Garnier Off The Record A Documentary Shown At Manchester Central As Part Of Manchester International Festival Image Courtesy Of The Artist
Laurent Garnier: Off The Record Courtesy of the artist


Hands down the most excited I was for any event at MIF this year. An opportunity to be pelted by on-screen techno in a massive warehouse for an hour and thirty minutes is right up my alley. And of course, it delivered on that front. Pure, euphoric pounding house music. Box very much ticked. But Laurent Garnier: Off The Record is also masterful storytelling. From his early years as a waiter to France’s complete inability to deal with the rise of "barbaric" techno music and its associated illegal raves. MIF’s use of Manchester Central this year has been inspired - and props to Dave Haslam for not swerving the issues (plague raves, Me Too, Black Lives Matter) facing the industry in the associated Q&A. Davey Brett

Manchester Central - Central Hall, Windmill Street, M2 3GX, this event is now finished

Global Palyground By Theatre Rites At Manchester International Festival 2021
Global Playground by Theatre Rites Tristram Kenton


Theatre Rites has pioneered immersive, experimental theatre for children. Back in 2017 The Welcoming Party led children and their grown-ups round the 1830 Warehouse at the Museum of Science and Industry in a recreation of the refugee experience that really showed what the space could do.

This year, Theatre Rites have brought Global Playground to MIF. It's much less story-led than The Welcoming Party, and while the framing story is about a cameraman trying to put together a dance film, it really is a more of showcase for some wonderful performers. Adults will recognise the frustration of trying and failing to organise (it maybe gets a little too real) while kids seemed to enjoy the comic aspects of the production the most. One of the performers Zooms in his dance while his partner is live on stage - a clever idea which will resonate in these times, especially with kids who've been home-schooling.

Global Playground is, production-wise, much more static than your usual Theatre Rites fare, possibly because COVID rules and transporting excited children round a large warehouse don't really mix. So, the audience are seated but movement still bursts through the seams, with roving cameras, wriggly puppets and dance. Lots of dance. This is something to take into consideration when booking. In truth Global Playground is as much, if not more, a dance production as a play. While the show is recommended for 8+, that's a guideline rather than a rule so a dance-mad seven-year-old will love it. I wouldn't go much younger than that because of some of the effects and the fact that you are very strongly encouraged not to go to the toilet during the production. The production is also available as a video on demand. Lucy Tomlinson

Unit 5 Great Northern Warehouse, 2 July - 18 July, Adult £12, Child £6, lower-waged GM residents £10

Poet Slash Artist At Mif 2021 Home Manchester
Lemn Sissay and Hans Ulrich Obrist's Poet Slash Artist extends inside and outside of HOME


Over at HOME, the press preview of Mancunian Lemn Sissay's Poet Slash Artist (co-curated with Hans Ulrich Obrist) was packed with the artists and poets themselves and it was another emotional one being back in the midst of creatives whose industries have taken a big hit from the pandemic. Sissay and Obrist have brought together artists and poets whose work straddles both art forms and the eclectic lineup includes artists as diverse as Imtiaz Dharker, Tracey Emin, Adonis and Xu Bing. If you're still antsy about heading indoors, there is plenty to see outside where mini billboards have been placed all around First Street emblazoned with prints of many of the artworks you will find within the indoor exhibition space - fitting given that Sissay's poetry is already emblazoned all over the living gallery of our city. But do head inside if you can because many of the pieces are multidimensional using mediums like neon, video and found materials and are well worth witnessing in the flesh. Kelly Bishop

HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Pl, Manchester M15 4FN, Fri 2 Jul 2021 - Mon 30 Aug 2021, Admission to this exhibition is free, but tickets should be booked in advance

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