John McGrath announced as artistic director of MIF – and he’s coming home.

Susie Stubbs
Photo of John McGrath in a black shirt

Alex Poots’ boots are going to be hard to fill, but the former Contact Theatre head is willing to give it a go.

After months of negotiation, MIF has finally announced who will replace Alex Poots as the head of the festival – and it’s someone who knows Manchester better than most. That new director is John McGrath, the chief exec and artistic director of National Theatre Wales, and a man who built his career here in Manchester. For almost a decade, McGrath was artistic director of Contact Theatre; it was he who turned the curiously castle-turreted venue into a performing arts space known for its pioneering work with, for and by young people.

Clearly, McGrath is going to bring with him an emphasis on theatre – but that’s not all. He currently leads an organization that operates without portfolio. Well, without a venue at any rate. National Theatre Wales has no building, and instead has taken its productions all over Wales, the UK, the world and, most interesting of all, online. It’s an organization used to collaborating with international partners in the creation and staging of new work, such as Tokyo’s New National Theatre. And it is also an organization adept at putting on what the MIF team call “large scale site-specific and digital work”.

He currently leads an organization that operates without portfolio

The National Theatre Wales’ 2012 performance, Coriolan/us, is a case in point. Coriolan/us saw its audience members, wearing headsets and let loose inside an RAF aircraft hangar, plunged into a kind of site-specific Shakespearean/Brechtian mash-up. This was a play where the audience mingled with the actors; immediate and visceral, it had “the merit of making us feel we are in the thick of events,” said Guardian critic, Michael Billington. Coriolan/us won rave reviews, and came hard on the heels of National Theatre Wales’ inaugural season – which had, you guessed it, also won rave reviews.

The collaborations, the internationalism, the innovation, the large-scale and the peripatetic tendency: it all sounds very MIF. Whether John McGrath can truly replace Alex Poots, the man who made Manchester International Festival what it is and has, by anyone’s standards, a fairly impressive contact book, remains to be seen. But if McGrath can prove his mettle in music and visual art as much as he has in theatre, then Manchester will be onto a good thing.

Culture Guides


From politically-minded British cinema, to rebooted classics and an animation extravaganza: there are plenty of festivals, film seasons and new releases for you to enjoy this month.

Visitors view work by Michael Dean in The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. 26 October 2018 - 20 January 2019. Photo, David Lindsay


From the dreamy paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to ‘shonky aesthetics’ and a crisis of visual representation surrounding HIV; this month’s exhibitions highlights are as eclectic as ever.


Luminous adventures, festive fixes, Drag Queen Storytime and New Year’s Eve parties with nippers to book now for … look no further for the best things to do with kids.

Author Luke Kennard.


Even more spoken word nights are joining the old faithfuls, there’s a whole lot of poetry and prose including a rare chance to catch performers from as far afield as Paris and Texas, and showcases such as Chester Literature Festival, Chorlton Book Festival and Poetry Emergency will add to your wider reading pile.


Spanning electronic, rock, classical and jazz, November holds a wealth of exciting northern gigs and concerts.

Theatre in Manchester and the North


Our theatre guide this month features the striking choreography of Matthew Bourne, a theatrical dining experience and our top picks of pantomime fare. There’s plenty to enjoy. Oh yes, there is!

tours and activities guide

Tours and Activities

Indulge in Manchester’s rapidly growing food culture this November with our top picks of edible tours and activities.

Things to do right now

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Cinema 2–23 November 2018, from £5

Peterloo at HOME

Cinema 9–23 November 2018, from £5

Widows at HOME

Activity 16 September–24 November 2018, from £9

The Modern History of the Northern Quarter Tour

Exhibitions 16 June–25 November 2018, from £5.25

Fusion: Adventures in Digital Art at Eureka!

Cinema 16–30 November 2018, from £5

Suspiria at HOME

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse
Literature 10 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse

The Maids at HOME
Theatre 16 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

The Maids at HOME

Comedy 21 September–4 December 2018, from £8

Mum’s the Word Comedy Club at The Edge