Free Your Mind Review | Aviva Studios at Factory International | Manchester
Celebrating The Matrix’s revolutionary visual effects, mind-blowing storyline and iconic action sequences, Free Your Mind is a sprawling adaptation with its own iconic imagery that flows through the three-room Aviva Studios space.
Offering a new perspective to the classic tale of technological takeover, director Danny Boyle (2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony and Trainspotting) reframes the story with an award-winning blend of hip-hop dance, sculptural art and imposing costume design for a wholly unexpected piece of theatre. The 1999 concept of a computer-generated dream world designed to keep humans enslaved has been integrated into a stunning live production with a tremendous sense of community.
Tapping into the Wachowski’s fantasy with captivating group choreography that mirrors breaking out of the all-consuming world of technology, the show utilises an ensemble of 50 dancers in a brutal commodity of movement. Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy’s choreography intricately tells the story of our ever-changing relationship with technology as the cast grasps together for sharp and connected scenes that replicate the flips, fights and realisation that you are living in the Matrix.
Due to the vast labyrinth of space at Aviva Studios, the production is aesthetically able to reframe The Matrix’s themes and its multi-layered story with unsettling and impactful references that uniquely capture the mood of the film. But the experience is wholly communal as Act Two allows you to see your fellow theatregoers on the opposite side of the humongous Warehouse stage. Alongside staring up at the oppressive, faceless costumes of designer Gareth Pugh that wander the crowd in a room drained of colour, the intermission sees you guided by a man-size bunny through the theatre and into a room full of interactive living art.
Characters appear handicapped by technology with even fluid freestyle dance defined by a sea of ensemble faces lit up by their handheld screens. Drones and AI also make an appearance however, the show's use of technology elevates the space. Sandy’s choreography combines hip-hop, martial arts, wirework and balletic movements to create a stunning visual spectacle, while writer Sabrina Mahfouz arranges the story only loosely around Neo, Trinity and the agents as the show is more focused on the dreamlike spaces it creates. The living simulation reflected back at the audience above the stage on a digital screen the width of a runway. You can’t view the whole screen without cranking your neck, it is colossus. But the impressive set is an enormous reminder of the influence that technology has over us and the elegant contradictions that come with it.
Free Your Mind presents the iconic imagery and themes of The Matrix in a staggering production that is sparked the moment you walk through the Aviva Studio doors. Decades after the film's initial release, Aviva Studio’s first live production echoes the same dangers of convenience, our inherent reliance on technology and our lack of human connection as a result. It is a timeless tale but Free Your Mind ushers a new audience to take the red pill with a painfully relevant and pulsating production that is not to be missed.
Tickets are available via the Factory International link