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Manchester Festival Sets Stage Slate

Baryshnikov, Dafoe join Branagh in new productions

Mikhail Baryshnikov, Willem Dafoe and helmer Robert Wilson are among  creatives joining Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford in mounting new legit productions at the U.K.’s Manchester Festival, which runs July 4-21,  as part of a wide-ranging slate of commissions.

Ashford and Branagh were already on tap to co-direct “Macbeth” with Branagh in the title role, with the show playing in an intimate, deconsecrated Manchester church. Sold out show runs July 5-21 but there are still tickets for the bigscreen relay of the play on July 20.

Dafoe and Baryshnikov will star in the premiere of Wilson’s production “The Old Woman,” an adaptation of a novella by Russian author Daniil Kharms.

Developed with Baryshnikov, it is the story of a struggling writer who cannot find peace. A project from Baryshnikov Prods., Change Performing Arts and the Watermill Center, it is commissioned and produced by Manchester Festival, Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi, Theatre de la Ville-Paris/Festival d’Automne a Paris and De Singel, Antwerp, and runs July 4-7.

Josie Rourke, a.d. of London’s Donmar Warehouse, helms the world preem of “The Machine” by fast-rising U.K. scribe Matt Charman, currently writing a screenplay for Universal/Working Title, Sony Films and Roland Emmerich, as well as two original drama series for the BBC. Commissioned by the fest, the Donmar and Park Avenue Armory, the play dramatizes the notorious 1997 New York battle between chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and IBM’s super-computer Deep Blue, a face-off that played out on live television. Following its July 10-21 world preem, the play receives its Gotham bow Sept. 4-21.

Launched in 2007 as an artist-led, commissioning festival presenting new works biennially from across the spectrum of performing and visual arts, Manchester’s past successes include the world preems of operas from Rufus Wainwright (“Prima Donna”) and Damon Albarn (“Monkey”) and  productions by cult theater company Punchdrunk, whose site-specific “Sleep No More” has been running in Gotham for two years.

In 1999 Branagh told Variety he would star in his own movie version of “Macbeth,” but the project never materialized. His Manchester gig will be his first performance in a Shakespearean role since playing Richard III at the Sheffield Crucible in a 2002 production directed by Michael Grandage.

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