Week 53, preview: More than a week of wonder

David Perkins

The Lowry flexes its cultural muscles with the opening of its major multi-arts festival Week 53: a spectacle of contemporary performance, art, theatre and sound.

The festival’s vital statistics are impressive: featuring over 200 creative practitioners and 63 performances over 11 days (from 28 April to 8 May), two of which are world premieres. It’s been named Week 53 because The Lowry team considered the arts centre’s body of work so stacked, they mused that an extra week in the year would be handy to showcase it. Here the Lowry brings its considerable experience in weighty cultural programming to the fore, confirming its winning status as the most visited attraction in the North West.

The festival celebrates curiosity, investigates the body and explores the themes of citizenship and place. Indeed, what better venue to highlight the notion of place than the Lowry, with its steamship architecture ‘docked’ in Salford between Stretford and Manchester on the banks of the ship canal: an area that is a collision of architectural styles, an urban collage of layered histories, a confluence of cities, technology, transport, history and creativity.

Festival highlights include 100% Salford: a performance which examines Salford through taking a look at one hundred of its citizens, who perfectly represent the city’s stats and population based on demographic breakdown of age, gender and household income. The result is a human portrait of a multicultural city and a reminder of the effort that the Lowry has made in its home city to engage its diverse communities through creative programming.

Eddy Izzard performs his Force Majeure show three times, in three one hour performances and in three languages (English, French and German), providing a salute to Manchester and Salford’s European connections and linguistic diversity (with over 200 languages spoken in Greater Manchester the conurbation is the most linguistically diverse in Western Europe). These performances are Izzard’s show of support for the current “stronger in Europe” campaign, and a demonstration that performance, place and language are always political.

What better venue to explore the idea of place than the Lowry?

30 Days of the Smiths is a landmark soundscape commission in which the personal stories of a collection of local people with the surname ‘Smith’ are interwoven with the music and lyrics of the Smiths to create a contemporary audio landscape of Salford and a reminder that Salford and Manchester have exported a rich cargo of popular music, as well as textiles, to a world-wide audience. The cultural export of pop music and its appropriation for use in sinister contexts is explored in the psychologically uncomfortable, but thought provoking, Last Resort where Hotel Guantanamo juxtaposes pop, torture and terrorism. This is a world premiere by 2 Magpies theatre.

Performance piece An Anatomie in Four Quarters by Clod Ensemble uses chiaroscuro light to transform its performers into dancing cadavers: its visual effects show renaissance anatomy drawings and modern e-ray images, and its audience members are asked to dissect the space of the lyric theatre by moving position four times during the course of the production, blurring the relationship between performer and viewer.

These themes of bodily motion, anatomies and dissection are carried through to The Dock, newly designed by David Shearing, a temporary space where the Lowry opens up and reveals its usually-off-limits back scene space to the public. Functioning as the festival hub: part living room, bar, performance space and common room, this can be your ‘home’ for the duration of the festival.

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