Bringing Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities to life for MIF

This year’s Manchester International Festival features an ambitious production of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. We talk to director Leo Warner about the challenges of bringing the novel to the stage, and creating a theatre from scratch at Mayfield in the city

For the next ten days, Manchester’s former railway depot Mayfield is being transformed into a theatre, where an adaptation of Italo Calvino’s poetic novel Invisible Cities will take place in a performance that mixes dance, music and projection mapping.

Calvino’s novel sees the explorer Marco Polo conjure up visions of 55 imagined cities for the emperor Kublai Khan, while along the way musing on questions of language, time and culture. It is a difficult text to bring to life on stage, and the MIF production is suitably ambitious, with an entirely new theatre space built to house it inside the Mayfield.

The project is a collaboration between 59 Productions, the company behind the video design of the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games and the theatre production of War Horse, the renowned dance company Rambert, and MIF.

It was over two-and-a-half years in the making, from its first conception via a conversation between Warner and 59 Productions’ set designer Jenny Melville in the back of a cab one day, to finding the right backing in Rambert and MIF. “It’s certainly the most complicated thing I’ve ever attempted to do,” Warner admits.