Kenneth Branagh: Why I Can’t Wait to Play MancBeth (But Don't Mention the Name of THAT Play...)
The Hollywood director speaks of his delight to be coming back to Manchester for the International Festival, and how he's spent his whole career avoiding Shakespeare's evil king
Manchester Evening News, 1 March 2013
Hollywood director Sir Kenneth Branagh has spoken of his delight to be coming back to the city where he ‘came of age’ as an actor to star in Macbeth at the Manchester International Festival.
Branagh cut his teeth at the Palace Theatre 25 years ago, and despite playing many great characters since, he revealed that he had spent his whole career avoiding playing Shakespeare’s evil king.
“It’s the one play by Shakespeare that follows me everywhere,” he said at the programme announcement for the fourth biennial festival, which takes place across Manchester from July 4 - 24.
“The Scottish play, and I’m still too superstitious to say the name, is the one I’ve thought and thought about, always circling around it, but didn’t know what to do with it.”
The play will be performed at a still-to-revealed deconsecrated church in ‘central Manchester’, and the cast have begun rehearsals.
Branagh announced that because the show’s £65 tickets sold out in minutes, the final performance will be shown live on a screen in a city car park to make it open and affordable for everyone to see. Tickets will be priced £8.
Branagh said: “We’ve been in rehearsals this morning, and we’re going back to it this afternoon, sleeves rolled up ... It’s brilliant!”
Branagh is only one of the star names lined up for this year’s festival. He’ll be joined by Maxine Peake, Sir John Tavener, Neneh Cherry, Massive Attack, Goldfrapp, The xx, world-renowned pianist Martha Argerich and Manchester band Delphic.
Bolton-born Peake will star in a one-woman adaptation of a poem of particular local importance - Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 'The Masque of Anarchy', written about the Peterloo Massacre in which 15 Mancunians died and hundreds were injured as they campaigned for parliamentary reform.
It will be staged in the Albert Hall, just metres away from the site of the massacre. The 'Shameless' star said she is delighted to be performing in such a poignant place.
She added: “You can look out of the windows and across the buildings and it’s amazing to think that you can see the point where it all happened. We want to make the connection between this place and the audiences and get it out to people in the simplest way possible so people really understand the poem.”
Festival chief executive Alex Poots says he hoped the performances by Branagh and Peake would remind people that the arts are for everyone. He said: “We’re in such difficult times and for me I think the arts are more important than ever.”
Manchester International Festival already has a reputation for bringing some of the city’s forgotten architecture into use, and this year looks to be no different.
As always, MIF will transform Albert Square into a lively hub for the duration of the festival. But in two huge coups for CEO Alex Poots, both the disused Albert Hall and abandoned former train station Mayfield Depot will be recommissioned for very special arts and music events.
The hall, in Peter Street, was built by Methodists in 1910 and is one of only a handful of former Methodist halls remaining in the UK. It has been empty since 2011 after years as a Brannigans pub, but since the pub only occupied the lower floor the upstairs concert hall and organ have remained intact. Bar chain Trof bought the building last year and are due to open it as a restaurant and concert venue in 2014.
But it will open for three weeks during the festival for shows by Goldfrapp, Mogwai, Peter Sellars and Abida Parveen. Mayfield Depot will also be a central hub for arts and theatre events, with major productions on during the day and in the evening, including a collaboration between dance act Massive Attack, Punchdrunk’s Felix Barrett and filmmaker Adam Curtis, and a centenary performance of Stavinsky’s 'The Rite of Spring'.
The depot, in Fairfield Street, was built as a relief railway station in 1910 and was used for passenger travel until 1960, then as a parcel depot until its permanent closure in 1986.
Despite various attempts to bring the station back into use over the years, including as a film set for TV drama Prime Suspect, it remains derelict following a fire in 2005.
Most intriguingly, though, MIF remains tight lipped about the ‘centrally located deconsecrated church’ in which it is staging 'Macbeth' - a venue that organisers say is only big enough for an audience of around 100 - and the whereabout of The xx’s set of sold out gigs.