Latest Review – Free Your Mind [Aviva Studios, Manchester]


Aviva Studios, Manchester

Until Sunday 5th November 2023

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Aviva Studios, Europe’s most exciting news arts, cultural and creative centre, and the new home of both Factory International and the Manchester International Festival, has celebrated its landmark and much-anticipated opening in Manchester’s flourishing St John’s neighbourhood, on the site of the former Granada television studios.

Designed by award-winning architects OMA, Aviva Studios has been designed around expansive, multipurpose creative spaces that can be reconfigured and reimagined to stage a range of ambitious, large-scale experimental works to help bolster the city’s status as a leading creative hub.

The question is of course, how exactly do you celebrate the launch and do full justice to the myriad possibilities the state-of-the-art new building affords? Well, with a production as inventive and utterly thrilling as Free Your Mind, of course; a dazzling fusion of dance, physical theatre and muscular stage combat inspired by one of the most celebrated and influential sci-fi film series ever made.

A scene from Free Your Mind. Commissioned and produced by Factory International @ Aviva Studios ©Tristram Kenton

Specially created for the opening by a world class creative team including director Danny Boyle, choreographer Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, composer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, designer Es Devlin and writer Sabrina Mahfouz, and brought to life by a vast company of fifty dancers – many of whom are making their professional debuts – Free Your Mind takes audiences on a fully immersive journey into the world of The Matrix, exploring our relationship and obsessions with technology and Artificial Intelligence in a timely and profound reimagining of the Wachowskis’ great film.

A scene from Free Your Mind. Commissioned and produced by Factory International @ Aviva Studios ©Tristram Kenton

The Aviva artistic and architectural teams have talked passionately about the potential of the building’s creative spaces, and Free Your Mind is a production that most definitely makes the most of that extraordinary potential.

From the moment audiences enter the building they are immersed in interactive, AI-inspired designs and installations to conjure a sense of intrigue and anticipation. From the ceremonial handing over of the keys to open the theatre before each performance to the white rabbits that roam about the foyer and the levitating performance artists that float in the signature Matrix poses, there are exciting little nuggets and Easter eggs to be discovered in each and every corner of the building.

Come performance time, audiences are then ushered into The Hall, a traditional, two-tiered theatre auditorium space, and given either red or blue wristbands ahead of a first act that combines sublime choreography and designs with a profound and often moving meditation on the future of technology. Come interval time, the surreal white rabbits then reappear to direct people back to the foyer and bar area for more immersion and mid-show entertainment.

Without revealing too much, audiences are then divided into their respective red and blue wristband contingents and led into another vast performance space for a breakneck, high-energy second act that opens with an examination of the addictions of social media and technology in the modern world before morphing into a spectacle that is pure Matrix, recreating many of the film’s iconic moments and set pieces with jaw-dropping artistry and imagination.

A scene from Free Your Mind. Commissioned and produced by Factory International @ Aviva Studios ©Tristram Kenton

Never has the subject of AI and ‘Big Tech’ been more timely than now, and with Free Your Mind, Boyle and the team have conjured something that feels not only timely but incredibly fresh and alive. It is a production that takes us down the proverbial rabbit hole, asks the big questions and examines the ever-changing technological landscape, all the while celebrating Manchester’s history as a pioneering centre of science and technology.

Set to a sweeping score by Asante, blending powerful orchestral melodies with thudding, bass heavy techno beats, Free Your Mind is ultimately a showcase for the eye-popping designs – featuring some of the most effective video projections you’re likely to see – and Sandy’s electric choreography. Slick, sharp and executed with real intensity and precision, Sandy does a superb job combining original movements with the distinctive fighting styles and blurred movements seen in the films.

A scene from Free Your Mind. Commissioned and produced by Factory International @ Aviva Studios ©Tristram Kenton

Audacious, absorbing and brimming with innovation and creativity, Free Your Mind is an absolute triumph and quite possibly the most exciting and dynamic new theatre piece you will experience this year or the next.

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at Aviva Studios, Manchester: Sunday 5th November 2023

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.

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