THEY Factory International MIF23

THEY Factory International MIF23

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Posted 2023-07-08 by David Keyworthfollow

Fri 07 Jul 2023 - Sun 09 Jul 2023

THEY – Factory International (MIF23)

We sat at the side of the historic reading room of the neo-Gothic John Rylands Library. White statues of Enriqueta Rylands and John Rylands waited with us at opposite ends of the long space.

Some people were watching from the upper floor. Weighty books waited too, behind glass cases, to be read again.

Maxine Peake walked on at 10 pm, with notes in her hand. She was wearing a blue trouser suit, such as a prisoner might be dressed in.

They, Maxine Peake at Manchester International Festival 2023 (c) Tristram Kenton

She told us that They: A Sequence of Unease, by Kay Dick, was first published in 1977 by Penguin Books. She then proceeded to read the novel to us.

Kay Dick’s story describes a familiar English setting - football pitches, hills, an estuary. But there was something unsettling in the rhythm of the tightly controlled sentences and the lack of humour. She writes lyrically about the spring, as so many have done before, but again there is something not quite right - the sun is ’unseasonable’; bulbs are ’ shooting through before their time

The bark of a dog and the creak of a garden gate hinted at something much more sinister than the daily post or newspaper arriving.

The narrator visits her artistically-minded friends, including Claire, a painter. We gradually realise that this genteel, creative existence is being undermined by ‘THEY’. The narrator's books are removed from her shelves in acts of ‘silent stealth’. Claire is taken away on a trawler because her painting went beyond ‘the acceptable limits.

What will they do to her? The narrator asked, although she probably already knew the answer.

The lighting, by Amy Mae, was used to great effect throughout the production. When the narrator took refuge in a church, where there was, we were told, a mutilated figure of Saint Sebastian, the room was dark and lights illuminated the stained glass. Melanie Wilson’s composition and sound design were menacing - it got increasingly louder as the narrator’s anxiety increased. The drones we heard could have been from ships on the estuary, or they could have been curfew sirens or warnings of forthcoming punishment.

(c) Tristram Kenton]

The silent presence of Joseph Lynn as the Filmmaker was slightly more puzzling. A notice, as we filed in, did refer to the performance being filmed, or maybe his constant following of Maxine Peake suggested that she was herself being monitored and her every word inspected.

For me, one of the most memorable events I have seen at Manchester International Festival (MIF) over the years, was Maxine Peake’s performance of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem The Masque of Anarchy, at Manchester’s Albert Hall, directed by Sarah Frankcom, in 2013.

Ten years on, Maxine Peake and Sarah Frankcom’s collaboration - along with Imogen Knight - was not quite as charged an experience, but more of an unnerving book at bedtime. It was not a dramatisation as such but more a reading in which Maxine Peake’s superlative performance skills were used to full effect. At times she was only a couple of feet away but still completely absorbed in her performance. Even the statues seemed to be hanging on her every inflection.

(c) Tristram Kenton

That said, I felt that the show was itching towards being a fully immersive one, where actors would have spoken directly to the audience and we would ourselves have become implicated and not just observers.

Much as it felt like a privilege to be there, I didn’t feel an overwhelming need for the novel to be performed now, apart from a chance to showcase a book that deserves far more attention and to remind us how easily our quiet freedoms could be taken from us and not just on loan. As the narrator said, towards the end: ’Communication lines must be preserved’.

Kay Dick by Helen Craig


For more information on THEY and MIF23 see their website .


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!date 07/07/2023 -- 09/07/2023
222311 - 2023-07-06 16:53:13

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