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Factory International - the big reveal


Architect's impression of the completed Factory International. Credit Office for Metropolitan Architecture
Architect's impression of the completed Factory International. All pics: Office for Metropolitan Architecture

Manchester’s latest and biggest entertainment venue has been revealed – Factory International (as it is now called), which is built on the site of the Granada Studios and Tour and umbilically joined to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry via its 1830 Warehouse building.

From opposite the Marriott Hotel to the old Liverpool Road Station, overlooking the Irwell, the rust-coloured Castlefield Curve railway bridge and a panorama of Salford, the new building contains two main auditoria: a 1,600-seat theatre and a “warehouse” space, 80m x 40m and 22m high, which can be used both as a theatre stage and as a gig space in its own right.

Programmed and operated by the Manchester International Festival, the £186m venue - almost £80m more than intended - will be the centrepiece of MIF 2023 (June 29-July 16) with an exhibition, You, Me and the Balloons, that will fill the space during the festival. It's a retrospective of three decades of Japansese artist Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable sculptures, brought together for the first time.

The official opening production is to follow (October 18-November 5, 2023). Factory International’s biggest scoop so far, it is to be directed by Danny Boyle and devised by him with choreographer Kenrick Sandy and composer Michael Asante, designer Es Devlin and writer Sabrina Mahfouz – a team Boyle worked with on the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

Free Your Mind will be presented across all the building’s spaces and is described as an "immersive performance" based on the Matrix films, through dance, music and visual effects, with a cast of professional dancers and hundreds of Manchester participants.

Then comes The Welcome, a nine-day programme of music, circus, art and fashion devised by Greater Manchester residents (November 11-19, 2023), before the venue gets into its programme of music gigs in the warehouse, and other arts events.

The building has large outdoor spaces and a huge covered outdoor area – recognising Manchester’s propensity for rain says the architects’ team from Office for Metropolitan Architecture). It was opened specially for a press view of the interior.

While still very much a work in progress, it's clear just how big the two main areas will be. The theatre has a 22m proscenium (that of the Royal Opera House is 15m; the Lowry Lyric Theatre, 14m), an orchestra pit for 80 musicians and a wide audience gallery, Liverpool Empire-style, with “stalls” seating that can be configured either raked or level (or removed completely, so an audience of 2,000 could stand; or people could be positioned in the stage area with a reverse view into the rest of the space.

In the normal configuration, the audience view of the stage can be extended back to a depth of 35m at full width, or even 55m through a smaller extension at the rear, enabling long distances to be evoked for real rather than in simulated perspective says lead architect Ellen van Loon. It was that idea, says van Loon, that “won us the competition”.

The warehouse space is to have capacity for 5,000 people standing, or divisible by a full-height acoustic wall. The other public spaces, both foyers and outdoor areas, are to have family activities, pop-up food stalls, music, workshops and markets, says the Factory team.

The plan is for various events to be run simultaneously, with several movable partitions and total sound-proofing between different parts of the complex. An enormous loading bay has lifts for two large wagons side by side, so that sets and kit can be swiftly moved into the performing and backstage areas.

The project, described as the largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 1960, has been financed with £100m from HM Government (arts minister Stuart Andrew was at the press conference, so at least we know it hasn't fallen victim to Liz Truss’s expected public spending cuts) and backing from Manchester City Council and Arts Council England, as well as £2.9m from The Law Family Charitable Foundation, which will give its name to the theatre (aka “the hall”).

The building will also will be the home of Factory Academy, already a training centre for local people hoping for a career in the creative industries.

The venue’s overall economic impact is predicted to create or support up to 1,500 jobs and add £1.1bn to Manchester’s economy over 10 years.

Indications of its ambitions can be gained from stand-up banners on show at the press event: “Dance Factory: international firsts” – “Sound Factory: international gigs” – “Drama Factory: international lab”.

Let the creative industry begin.