If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…at least if you had high hopes of this Manchester International Festival show living up to the high standards of some of its other bold experiments in sound and vision.

Certainly, Neck of the Woods has its visual moments; the piano music is often lovely and Charlotte Rampling is, inevitably, a joy to hear and see, but overall it’s much less than the sum of its parts.

This seems primarily to be the fault of multi award-winning director Douglas Gordon (and Turner Prize-winning artist), who somehow manages to pull off the unlikely double-whammy of being preeningly over-indulgent without actually giving much to the audience.

The evening begins in total darkness (just what is it with MIF this year and blackouts?) as we hear the sound of a tree being chopped down and, after what seems like a very long time indeed, crashing to the ground. This is an undeniably impressive audio effect, apparently requiring even HOME’s superb sound system to be bolstered, and it’s followed by a delicate solo piano piece, the first of many, from the splendid Hélène Grimaud. Subsequently, Rampling sleepily delivers the first of several extracts from the “story of the wolf”, primarily variants on Little Red Riding Hood. That’s followed by another brief piano piece from Grimaud, whose repertoire ranges from Bach to Schumann via Eno and Liszt, followed by a further recital from Rampling…and so on. There are occasional, slightly spectral appearances at the back of the stage from the MIF-formed Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir with menacing voiceovers here and there delivered in the unmistakable voice of Gordon himself.

Perhaps it aims to be as impenetrable and mysterious, yet mundane, as the woods themselves, in which case it succeeds. The audience were, for the most part, distinctly underwhelmed by it all, though, despite a ripple of admiration for some of the visual effects and the rather splendid wolf itself.

By Kevin Bourke

golden-star golden-star