Stoller Hall, Manchester – until 21 July 2019
Guest reviewer: Rachel Foster
As part of MIF (Manchester International Festival), that aims to bring artists from different art forms to create forward thinking innovative work, Maxine Peake stars in the world premiere of The Nico Project as 60s icon of the same name. The singer often remembered for her husky deep vocals and startling looks.
This show goes beyond the image of femme fatale into deeper to look at women’s place in male arenas such as music and how Nico fits into that. The narrative throws light on a lesser known album called The Marble Index – she is more connected in minds with Lou Reed and Andy Warhol. It actually carries a lot of cache today. The Nico Project is an all-woman show in terms of performer Peake , director Sarah Frankcom with music by Anna Clyne and text by playwright LV Crowe.
Poignantly Nico resided in Manchester towards the end of her life. Attracted by a seedy underworld that fed an addiction to heroin (so the story goes) and something about the city resonated with her.
Peake as Nico enters nonchalantly with long navy overcoat. She stumbles and stutters over her words as a damaged character would. The lights remain up leaving her very exposed to scrutiny, whilst the atmosphere conjured up is ghostly with a haunting quality, her hands shake as she draws on a cigarette, she’s both enigmatic and frail, yet full of idiosyncrasies.
An all-female orchestra enter dressed alike with green neckerchiefs almost naive and fragile. They interact with Peake in a way that is out of context for musicians but nevertheless works well, and brings things alive. Their movement is so well executed and choreographed. Lyrics are repeated mesmerisingly as Peake wanders the stage in disarray. ‘Close to the frozen borderline’ lyrics brings things to a sudden change when the Hall is thrust into darkness. And Nico appears elevated on a platform above the stage as the orchestra contort around the stage spectre like.
The whole spectacle is a joy to watch both innovative and captivating. It was a wonderfully unique portrayal of a woman in a traditionally male environment.