Image: Joseph Lynn
The Nico Project by Maxine Peake & Sarah Frankcom – Stoller Hall, Manchester
A disconcerting figure in a long black coat wanders the stage, smoking a cigarette. She seems to be making contact with former Manchester resident and counter-culture enigma, Nico. When an orchestra of girls in Hitler Youth uniforms join her on stage, the performance becomes officially haunted. An intricate and highly original performance revolves around the relationship between the troubled-yet-uber-cool Nico and an increasingly anxious orchestra.
The exceptional playing of the girls from the Northern College of Music delivers subtle but punchy versions of Nico’s intense, disturbing songs, but they are also integral to the action. When Nico’s deep voice floats out of the ether over the strings, it takes a moment to realise that the sound is coming from two singers on stage, in their teens. Together they produce a sound they have no right to make. Gradually, as Maxine Peake’s captivating performance becomes more agitated, the orchestra starts to act as one. They take their shoes off and their hair down, and stand on their chairs. Their collective possession reflects the demons in Nico’s life – Nazism and heroine being just some of them – without running through her biography. Frankcom and Peake, whose continuing collaborations are producing a series of exceptional productions, have created original, experimental and unclassifiable theatre that gets inside your head.