SICK! Lab in Manchester preview: Loneliness, the mind… and tower blocks

Stevie Mackenzie-Smith

SICK! Lab is a four-day festival exploring mental health, bodies and the mind, and the personal complexities of living in an imperfect society.

Have you ever eaten a meal alone and suddenly become acutely aware of how quiet everything is when there’s nothing to distract you? You could be in the noisiest restaurant but when it’s just you and your mind – no book, no phone – you start to realise why philosopher Pascal Blaise once wrote “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Similarly, Louis CK spoke of this phenomenon in this wonderful clip.)

SICK! Lab (9-12 March) is a programme of performances, discussions and talks on couches unpicking the mind and the body, identity and trauma, and asking how personal battles come to define us physically and mentally. That said, it’s not gloomy; it’s a place to take the universal questions that plague us. In You’re Not Alone, for instance, Kim Noble tries to cut through the loneliness of modern society and get close to other people, seeking connection in tower blocks, supermarkets and on Facebook.

If you prefer your philosophy pint-sized one event draws on Only Fools and Horses Wisdom

Meanwhile, in Fake It ‘til You Make It (also part of this year’s Wonder Women festival), performance artist Bryony Kimmings responds to the silence around male depression through a show featuring her partner, Tim Grayburn, a non-acting account manager at a top advertising firm, who has severe clinical depression.

There’s the chance to watch new performance works-in-progress at Test Lab, in which sketches and segments of new works by a variety of artists exploring social health and wellbeing are opened up to an audience, and in Open Space: The Future of Identity the conference format is turned upside down- this is an ‘un’conference in which the audience leads a discussion.

On The Couch is an all-day affair taking place on 10 March, with a speakers including poet (and Chancellor of University of Manchester) Lemn Sissay MBE, Professor Anthony Redmond OBE (Professor of International Emergency Medicine), Briony Kimmings, Kim Noble and artist Hetain Patel (whose Who Am I? Think Again TED Talk has been watched almost 2.5 million times) and more. It’s £15 for the day, and looks set to be a fascinating series of thought-provoking talks (full programme here).

Meanwhile, if you prefer your philosophy pint-sized, there’s Bar Flies Philosophy: The Trigger’s Broom Paradox, in which theatre company Quarantine draw on the (possible) wisdom of Trigger from Only Fools and Horses. We Brits are living in the Age of Stress, with about 10 million working days a year lost to that complex and expansive mental state and, as ever, SICK! brings a much-needed discussion about our collective and individual mental health into a public space.

Culture Guides


Escape to the cinema this month. We round up the best new releases, special one-off screenings and retrospectives showing near you.

Christina Quarles at The Hepworth Wakefield


Like the 58th Venice Biennale which opened earlier this May, our latest pick of exhibitions across the north also has a strong ecological bent.

Digital Dimensions at Eureka! Children playing in digital dimensions with light pillars


All the most creative experiences for your family; inside, outside and in to space! The best family things to do in Manchester and the North.

Guy Garvey


August is quiet, but the books are back in September with one-off reading events, some much-anticipated launches and the return of the Northern Lights Writers’ Conference as we gear up for Manchester Literature Festival in October.


Get ready for some massive shows in Manchester and the north this summer!

Theatre in Manchester


We’re gearing up for the new theatre season – our guide this month features all the best performances happening now and over the next few weeks.

Food and Drink in Manchester and the North

Discover the best food and drink that the North has to offer in our expert guide to food and drink in Manchester and beyond.

comedy character

Tours and Activities

Challenge yourself to try something different this summer with our guide of Manchester based Tours and Activities. You’re bound to find something new to do in the city.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Cinema 18–21 August 2019, from £5.50

MIF19: Blue Velvet at HOME

Power UP Late at the Science and Industry Museum
Activity 24 July–21 August 2019, from £12.00

Power UP Late at the Science and Industry Museum

The Den at Stalybridge Civic Hall
Families 13–24 August 2019, All tickets are pay what you decide, available from Stalybridge Civic Hall.

The Den at Stalybridge Civic Hall

Henry V at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre
Theatre 26 July–25 August 2019, from £26.50

Henry V at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Music 20 May–26 August 2019, from £5

NQ Jazz at the Whiskey Jar

Cinema 20–27 August 2019, from £9

Transit at HOME