Fest in show

Matthew Hull

While the Weekender brings together the best of Manchester over three days, it wouldn’t exist without four of the amazing annual festivals that arrive in the city each October. Matthew Hull takes a closer look at their programmes.

For the uninitiated, Manchester in October is essentially a month-long celebration of four good things: a good read, a good laugh, a good meal, and a good idea. With our autumn festivals in full flow, every night offers several enticing cultural options, and this can require some very tough decisions.

But that’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it? Whether you’re a chic geek, a foodinista, a comedy fan or a member of the literati (or, like us, a bit of all four at once) the citywide season of festivals has goings-on to suit everyone.

First up is Manchester Food and Drink Festival (7-17 October), and this year’s installment promises a whole platter of gastronomic delights. TV chef-with-a-conscience Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will headline proceedings, holding a Q&A session, demonstrating his skill in the live kitchen theatre and signing copies of his books. While celeb chefs are a draw, this festival isn’t about meeting, but eating, and there’s plenty of that on offer. Sample mouth-watering regional fare at St. Ann’s Square’s Feast Market, while the sweet stuff rules supreme at the Manchester Chocolate Festival in Exchange Square, which features the world’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory.

If al fresco isn’t your thing, the Festival and their partners at Manchester Confidential have worked with local restaurants to offer a Big Manchester Eat Out menu, a fixed price selection of dishes aimed at encouraging new diners to experience the best of the city’s cuisine. Of course good food needs something to wash it all down and the Manchester Whisky Festival has just the thing – drams from distilleries across the globe hosted in the suitably smooth surroundings of The Lowry Hotel. Fans of the frothy stuff are well catered for too: local beer heroes Robinson’s have brewed a special ale in honour of Manchester’s own Elbow, which will be in full flow during the festival.

Now celebrating its sixth anniversary, the Manchester Literature Festival (10-23 October) has made a real mark on the city’s literary landscape. In previous years the festival has attracted heavy-hitters like Jeanette Winterson and Seamus Heaney but this year’s most hotly anticipated event is Portrait of Words and Music, a one-off collaboration between Manchester Camerata and prize-festooned poet Michael Symmons Roberts who has been commissioned to write new work inspired by the evening’s musical programme. In another unique crossover event Manchester Cathedral is hosting a reading-cum-dramatisation of Sarah Dunant’s novel Sacred Hearts. Accompanied by the atmospheric sounds of Early Modern orchestra Musica Secreta, the author and a small cast of actors will stage the story of life, love and sin in a 16th century Italian convent.

One notable development at this year’s Literature Festival is the arrival of something of a Spanish-language fringe. Acclaimed Cuban novelist Victor Rodriguez Núñez will be appearing in discussion with poet and literary critic Grevel Lindrop before reading extracts from his award-winning work. The festival also sees the launch of Of Ink and Light, a new exhibition from Argentinean-born photographer Daniel Mordzinski. The show features intimate portraits of the leading lights of Ibero-American literature including godfather of magical realism Gabriel García Márquez and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz.

Organisers are promising that this year’s Manchester Comedy Festival (17-30 October) will be the biggest and best yet with a line-up designed not so much to tickle your funny bone as fracture the thing, and linked this year to the new Cofilmic Festival (31 October-1 November) showcasing new comedy film talent. The festival begins at the Northern Quarter’s favourite laugh-house the Frog and Bucket with the series final of its infamous Beat the Frog competition. The brutally hilarious contest sees a collection of aspiring comics face off against each other for the crowd’s approval.

Steve Shanyaski might be an award-winning stand-up now but for years the only microphone the comedian used was fixed to a set of turntables. In his latest show Wasn’t I Supposed to be Goldie the rising star details his failed attempt to make it as a hit producer of dance music. Also appearing at the festival is Mock the Week panellist Andy Parsons who proves he can carry a joke even when he isn’t flanked by other comedians, delivering an evening of his own material centering on the discovery of a pair of underpants in a jar of mayonnaise.

Always a family favourite, this year the Manchester Science Festival (22-30 October) has really rolled up its lab coat sleeves. Conservation meets orchestration with Polar, a breath-taking documentary about dwindling arctic habitats soundtracked live by the brass, strings and wind of the Liverpool Philharmonic. Get hands-on and meet the team behind the BBC’s popular science cavalcade Bang Goes the Theory LIVE – an experimental extravaganza of fizzing, bubbling and exploding. Things are getting messy in a different, infinitely more disgusting way, at Zombie 1Z as Doctor Austin from ZITS (the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Study) explains the real science behind reanimated corpses and undead outbreaks.

For event times, locations, prices and booking info please visit the relevant festival website:

Manchester Food & Drink Festival, 7 – 17 October 2011. foodanddrinkfestival.com

Manchester Literature Festival, 10 – 23 October 2011. manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk

Manchester Comedy Festival, 17 – 30 October 2011. manchestercomedyfestival.co.uk

Manchester Science Festival, 22 – 30 October 2011. manchestersciencefestival.com

Cofilmic, 31 October – 1 November 2011. cofilmic.co.uk

Images: Top: Festival Markets, St Ann’s Square; Middle: Musica Secreta, Manchester Literature Festival

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