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Review: Studio ORKA’s Tuesday (Manchester International Festival)

There are many times I’ve been to the theatre (literally and conceptually – not all plays take place on the stage), when I’ve thought ‘what a brilliant production, what a great story, what an excellent ‘play’ this is.’

And then there are times when I’ve left the idea that I’m at a play far behind and been drawn into the world before me on another level.

Seeing Tuesday by Studio ORKA, a Belgian company of hugely acclaimed actors and designers, was one of these rare occasions.

Credit: Chris Payne

Performed in St Augustine’s, a Grade 1 listed Victorian church  in Pendlebury, Salford, Tuesday tells the tale of an older man who looks back on his life, following his abandonment by his mother.

I baptise you Tuesday, he said, because I found you on a Tuesday – from now on, the most beautiful day of the week.

Tuesday (Titus de Voogdt) is brought up by the widowed Nester (Dominique Van Melder), along with son, Rene (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) who found him as a baby in the church where Nester works, and where the play is set.

Occasionally we see glimpses into the outside world through the church doors as people come and go, whilst Tuesday, from childhood to man, 1945 to present day, remains in his sanctuary.

We first enter the story with Tuesday, now a man clearly in his dotage, preparing for the funeral of Nester. Arriving early to the funeral, an elderly lady listens to Tuesday practise his eulogy, his own life story soon playing out before our eyes.

A mainstay of the story are Funeral Director, Benedicte (Tania van der Sanden) and daughter Stella (IIse de Koe) together with all aforementioned players forming one fairly happy, dysfunction not withstanding, family.

Credit: Chris Payne

The tale is magical. So drawn in, I soon forgot I was in a church watching a play set in a church. I was just in their world.

There are books, films, productions that never quite leave you. Those which you may, perhaps, watch every year at Christmas, which embrace you and reach out to your inner child.

Credit: Chris Payne

This is one such production. The characters are funny, human, warm, flawed, vulnerable, loving and likeable. The musical contributions, interludes, punctuations, delivered by the rather wonderful Studio ORKA chorus, are immersed into the story seamlessly, never awkwardly (I’m not a fan of the traditional musical where everyone breaks into song for no apparent reason in a toe-curlingly cringey way).

There is a sequence towards the end where accompanied only by the piano, Tuesday silently moves around his church/world/home, taking us all round the ‘set’, coming in and out of view, up and down ladders with an acrobatic grace which was incredibly moving, poignant and spine-tingling.

Credit: Chris Payne

The tale is one of togetherness, finding comfort in those we love however those paths meet, and all those little  events, experiences, seemingly unremarkable moments which make us who we are.

In short, I wish I could visit Tuesday’s world once a year as everyone needs a little magic, comfort and reminder once in a while of what life is all about.

I know, I know, twee – I’m being twee.

But I bet I’m not the only one over the course of the run that entered church to see a play and left feeling like they’d just been given a huge, lovely bearhug, care of Studio ORKA and Manchester International Festival.

Studio ORKA

MiF – Tuesday

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Review: The Nico Project (Manchester International Festival)

Manchester International Festival is your opportunity to see something different. Something new, something especially commissioned, someone new, someone big…

The Nico Project is the perfect case study of all of the above.

The late Nico, real name Christa Paffgenmade, entered the musical zeitgeist in 1967 with The Velvet Underground, and the ‘show’ is inspired by her 1968 album, The Marble Index.

Maxine Peake as Nico – Credit: John Shard

With Maxine Peake in the title role and artistically directed by Sarah Frankcom, The Nico Project is billed as ‘a stirring theatrical immersion into her sound, her identity and the world in which she fought to be heard’.

Taken at face value and with or without a background knowledge of this artist/actor/model, her work, her predilections in life and, indeed music, before her premature death, the show is a 60 minute assault on the senses.

Credit: Joseph Lynn

Assault is perhaps the the wrong word as it evokes negative connotations. Although given the haunting and troubled persona of the late Nico herself, the message being sent through the performance and indeed the musical orchestrations aren’t intending to take the audience on a nice stroll through the park. So yes, let’s stick with assault.

A company/outfit/cast of all female performers, the pre-reading tells us that the show ‘celebrates the potency of female creativity in a field dominated by men’.

artistic director sarah frankcom in rehearsals - image stephen king
Artistic Director, Sarah Frankcom, in rehearsals. Credit: Stephen King.

Apparently, this wasn’t intentional but according to Maxine Peake in an interview with The Guardian ‘felt right…I could only seem to find male stories about Nico.’

Indeed, synonymous with Andy Warhol. Lou Reed, John Cale… and her relationship with the French actor, Alain Delon, it is perhaps perversely apt that the production is wholly brought to us by a solely female outfit.

To the show itself.

The Royal Northern College of Music brought not only the music to life, but did so with a visual performance to boot – they were striking in their choreography and acting as they interacted with Peake, both instruments in hand and without.

the-nico-project-at-manchester-international-festival.-credit-joseph-lynn.
Credit: Joseph Lynn

As the musical performance steadily reaches its crescendo throughout the hour, so does the unravelling of Nico’s mind and visuals laid before us – erratic lighting, hair let down and wild, shoes off…Peake, appearing on the balcony is a messiah-like moment both in her delivery and stature.

And, like much of the performance, it’s disturbing. It’s meant to be and frankly it’s reassuringly and acceptably so.

Watching  Peake slip in and out of the persona and,  indeed, accent (intentionally!) – from the familiar Lancashire voice into the clipped, groaning voice and intonation of Nico, is at best mesmerising, at worst frightening.

maxine-peake-in-the-nico-project-at-manchester-international-festival.-credit-joseph-lynn-1
Credit: Joseph Lynn

Indeed at the moment the theatre was plunged into absolute darkness for what was probably a minute or so but felt like hours, closing off one sense allowed a certain respite to gather one’s thoughts and, to be honest, panic slightly about what on earth was coming next (certainly for me, accompanied by a frisson of excitement).

My advice as with anything avant-garde, off kilter, experimental art is to go, absorb and see what emotions you take away with you. Don’t approach with a list of questions or immediately deconstruct).

Credit: Joseph Lynn

Productions such as this and, indeed, events such as the Manchester International Theatre give you the gift of originality and expression of freedom. And this really is a gift.

And now for the Manchester connection – Nico did indeed visit Manchester in 1982 for a gig and never did leave (well, save for the odd European Tour).

Guess that makes her an Honorary Manc too…