Manchester is determined to have a brilliant summer, for all the right reasons. The city’s hosting three major theatre festivals all in one month. Performances are bursting out of buildings and spreading into every space and square the city has to offer. The Manchester International Festival and The Flare Festival of International Theatre are both in town at the start of July, but the real grassroots treat is the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, which runs for the whole month. It offers the best selection of LGBT+ content and the warmest of welcomes.
The GM Fringe began life six years ago and has ballooned ever since. It now offers around 650 performances of over 150 shows in 30 different locations, from Sackville Gardens to Stockport Railway Station via a running performance tour of Manchester city centre. A few shows are free, lots are a fiver and you can see pretty much anything for ten quid. The intimacy of the Fringe also means that you’re sure to rub shoulders with whichever hot boy you fancied in the cast afterwards at the bar, definitely a unique fringe benefit.
If there is a Fringe HQ, it’s The Kings Arms (in Salford but actually only a short walk from Manchester City Centre). The Kings houses new writing all year round in three separate performances spaces, and is awash with shows in July. Gay “Must Sees” here include: British Exist Theatre’s darkly humorous one man show Bleach about a sex worker whose regular night turning tricks spirals out of control leaving him questioning whether living in London is really worth the price of rent, Thorn from Keogh Productions about the early life of Steven Patrick Morrissey, and Christopher Bowles LIVE in Technicolour which guarantees to be better fun than watching paint dry. That couldn’t quite be said of every Fringe show I’ve seen over the years…
Also of interest at Kings are The Big Things by up-coming gay writer Mike Heath, which was shortlisted last year for the BBC’s Alfred Bradley Award, and Watching Goldfish Suffocate from the wonderfully prolific Vertigo Theatre, a play that has already received multiple 5 star reviews for its moving portrayal of an actor suffering with an undiagnosed mental illness. The campest pleasure that Kings has to offer queens is undoubtedly Richard Carpenter’s Close To You. This one man show by Frisky & Mannish’s pianist Matthew Floyd Jones is a bittersweet account of the solo days of the smiliest piano player in the history of light entertainment.
There are two other fantastic musicals that are selling out as a type. The Marriage of Kim K at 53two is a scandalously satirical explanation of what Mozart and Kim Kardashian have in common and why her marriage to a NBA star lasted only 72 days. Boris-The Musical is a blend of Brexit farce and songtastic satire with tracks like “Me and My Johnson” and “BeLeave!” being staged at Z-Arts, a venue that is just outside of Manchester City Centre, but well worth the short journey.
In Manchester’s gay village itself there is plenty of Fringe action. Stewart Campbell, a leading graduate from the Manchester School of Theatre, has set up Qweerdog Theatre to stage Absolute Certainty? at Tribeca. This comic and moving play centres on Finn an 18 year-old questioning his sexuality as his crush on his brother’s best friend grows stronger and stronger. On Canal Street itself, Via is home to Appily Ever After from Frenetic Fox Productions, which explores tech-addiction and how far are we prepared to go on-line to feel fulfilled. And at the famous Alan Turning Memorial in Sackville Gardens BoxedIn are offering Wood for free (in every sense I’m sure!), a piece of semi-immersive, queer theatre about sex, friendship, and camping.
It’s a great July fizzing with more shows than Manchester has ever seen before in the space of 31 days, the perfect time for a visit to the UK’s second city of theatre and culture and its first of fun and friendship.
Information and advance tickets for all shows at www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk
Words by Stephen M Hornby