Anyone with home town cabin fever after a year of Covid captivity will beat their chests in glee at the thoroughly global flavour of this summer’s Manchester International Festival. Maybe we can’t go to the world yet but, despite the challenges of doing so, our festival of firsts is bringing the world to us with brilliant creative brains from 20 different countries lined up to perform from Tuesday 1 to Friday 18 July. Ticketed events go on sale from Thursday 20 May, and lots of events will be free. Here’s our five hot tickets/dates for your diary in preparation.

Arlo Parks & The Royal Northern College of Music | Venue TBC | Fri Jul 9 | Tickets on sale May 20

She’s not even 21 yet, but Arlo Parks has already set the music world on fire. Subversive, sensual, and incredibly switched on, Parks has a neo-soul voice as sweet as honey – and we’re already on the brink of tears imagining it dripped over a full string section of players from the Royal Northern College of Music. This one is going to be exquisite.

Big Ben Lying Down With Political Books by Marta Minujín | Piccadilly Gardens | Thu Jul 1 - Sun Jul 18 | Free

The enchanting Marta Minujín has created one of the stand out free events for MIF – a piece she calls “colossal” and one that will entirely take over the city’s central gardens. Created out of 20,000 books on British politics, Big Ben Lying Down… will replicate London’s famous clock tower as a 42 metre long work of art that, on its final day, will be ceremoniously taken to pieces and its book building blocks distributed to the crowds. In a century that has so far been dominated by fierce political debate around identity, sovereignty and integrity, this piece is very timely.

All Of This Unreal Time | Venue TBC | Fri Jul 2 - Sun Jul 4 | Tickets on sale May 20

Cillian Murphy – the man a generation now knows as Tommy Shelby – stars in this intimate exploration of one man’s failings. It’s both a physical and emotional journey presented as a movie that will surround its audience with sound – which all suggests something very deep and very dark, and with Max Porter behind the script, Aoife McArdle directing, and the team of Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner and Jon Hopkins behind the music, there’s every reason to believe this is going to take a long and hard unflinching stare into the depths of the human psyche.

Portrait of Black Britain by Cephas Williams | Manchester Arndale | Thu Jul 1 - Sun Jul 18 | Free

One hundred portraits hung around the halls of Manchester’s biggest shopping precinct, Portrait of Black Britain embraces the positive affirmation of the Black Lives Matter movement and analyses what it is to be black and British right now. The installation is actually the beginning of a massive project for Cephas, who’ll premiere the portraits as the start of his journey to create and curate the largest collection of photographic portraits of black Brits ever.

Notes On Grief | Manchester Central | Wed Jul 7 - Sun Jul 18 | Tickets on sale May 20

Given the year we’ve all experienced, it would be remiss not to include Notes On Grief in this five must sees – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s response to the tragic death of her father, James. Author of Half a Yellow Sun and Americanah, Chimamanda began her tribute to her dad with an essay piece in the New Yorker but was so deeply affected by the loss that the essay grew into a book. From that book came this, an adaptation for stage by director Rae McKen to which a sad number of us will be able to personally relate; undoubtedly many others will also watch it feeling great gratitude to have come through the virus without experiencing tragedies like loss.

Thu 1 Jul - Sun 18 Jul, Manchester International Festival 2021
Sarah Walters
Published on:
Mon 5 Jul 2021