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Adam Curtis v Massive Attack

Jonathan Schofield smells teen spirit as part of the Manchester International Festival

Written by . Published on July 8th 2013.

Adam Curtis v Massive Attack

MANCHESTER International Festival is like an eccentric old uncle. You're not quite sure what he's talking about sometimes but you're glad he's around.

I'm pleased I went to Adam Curtis v Massive Attack, it was a spectacle, you'd have to be in a coma not to be impressed by the magnitude of the thing.

Adam Curtis is like an older man slapping
you about the face with a kipper for reasons
you can't quite work out. You want to tell
him to calm down, go for a walk

But there were big problems. If this really was Adam Curtis v Massive Attack then the former won 8-1. More of the music would have been good.

As it was, those precious moments when former Cocteau Twin and one of my favourite performers ever, Elizabeth Fraser, sang were times to cherish. Her voice, pure and ethereal, lifted the soul and filled the gorgeous dereliction of Mayfield Station with moments of lyrical beauty.

But mostly the music was a soundtrack for Adam Curtis's long visual lecture on how the world is going to hell in a handcart and we're all tools and fools of the state while religion, democracy, communism and the whole dodgy matrix of life and death and the future is a furnace of failed dreams and mangled aspirations.

Which was odd, because on the taxi back to Albert Square I stared out of the window at the Village and Chinatown and lots of people seemed to be having a really good time. This morning my lads seemed quite chipper too, dear Mr Curtis. Cheer up eh?

Everything is derelict and bad: Mayfield Station as a metaphor

Back in Mayfield Station the night before, Adam Curtis's vision, initially engaging, because of the scale of the visuals and a bass that made me aware of the position of each of my internal organs, became more and more numbing.

After an hour I realised this was the world's largest immersive adolescent nightmare conceived by a 58-year-old man who should know better.

It's the conceit of every age, especially among teenagers, to think they live in the worst of all times. Then we grow up, maybe understand politics and history some more, and learn this isn't the case.

Massive Attack2. Jpg
The show reminded me of my Marxist history teacher at 'A' level who taught such a biased and twisted view of history that the whole class turned away in the end from her pile-driven message and started to think her utterly absurd. 

So as Curtis's patrician voice (I assume it was his) delivered his lecture about his twin obsessions with America and Russia, and my organs bounced in the bass, I lost interest in his trite message and lost myself in the sensory experience of the event instead.

This is the trick with Adam Curtis v Massive Attack. The show is worth seeing if you fall back into it like a bath, let it wash over you, try not to get angry or argumentative with the ridiculous interpretation of history. 

But I was disappointed.

When I saw It Felt Like A Kiss in 2009 I came out of that immersive theatre experience from Adam Curtis and Punchdrunk Theatre, awestruck. I was palpably excited about where a dramatic experience could take people. I soundlessly mouthed the word 'wow' for a week like a goldfish in a bowl at feeding time.

The message in It Felt Like A Kiss, about the stagnation of the American Dream, seemed to have been delivered with beauty, power and shock. 

This show does not do that. 

It's impressive but hardly moving. Instead it's like an older man slapping you about the face with a kipper for reasons you can't quite work out. You want to tell him to calm down, go for a walk. 

And it's so fatally humourless. 

I think it was the poet Robert Graves who once said, 'The problem with the Bible is there's not a single joke in it.'

Same with this show. 

Massive Attack3 . Jpg
But then again maybe the world is that grim and serious and we are all on that rocky road to ruin.

Maybe it's all as empty and dead as the former Mayfield Station in which Adam Curtis v Massive Attack takes place. 

This was the old uncle of Manchester International Festival without a smile. I'm still hugely pleased he's around but with the next show it'd be nice to have him give me a grin or two. He can certainly rattle a few cages though. 

Adam Curtis v Massive Attack is part of Manchester International Festival. More details here.

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