Entertainment & Arts

Sir Kenneth Branagh heads Manchester festival

Sir Kenneth Branagh
Image caption Sir Kenneth received his knighthood at Buckingham Palace last week

Sir Kenneth Branagh and Mercury Prize-winning band The xx will be among the highlights of next year's Manchester International Festival, each promising intimate shows in unusual venues.

Sir Kenneth will play Macbeth for the first time in his career in a deconsecrated church in the city.

It will be his first Shakespeare play for more than a decade.

The xx will play a string of gigs in a secret "enigmatic found space" during the 18-day festival next July.

The event is held every two years and 2013 will be its fourth incarnation. Bjork, Victoria Wood and Damon Albarn were among the star attractions last year.

Sir Kenneth will give 17 performances as Macbeth in a new production by Emmy and Tony award-winning director Rob Ashford.

Regarded as one of the great modern Shakespearean actors, he last appeared in one of the Bard's plays in Richard III at the Sheffield Crucible in 2002.

The xx, who won the Mercury Prize in 2010, will have a residency at the festival, playing for fewer than 100 people at a time.

Festival director Alex Poots said: "We continue to make ambitious and engaged work with some of the world's greatest artists and thinkers, while taking the festival - and our audiences - in new, unexpected and challenging directions."

Image caption The xx released their second album Coexist in September

The event has earned a reputation for staging world-class premieres and one-off events from the worlds of music, theatre and art.

Last year's highlights ranged from the premiere of a show about the life and imagined death of Serbian-born performance artist Marina Abramovic to a stage comedy based around a TV shopping channel starring comedian Johnny Vegas.

The full programme for next year's festival will be announced in February.

It will also include a project examining how to create sustainable food supplies in an era of rising populations and urban living.

An old industrial building in Salford will be converted into an agricultural space filled with experiments in sustainable food, technology and design.

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