It came to the end of January and I was quite pleased I had managed to get through a financially tough month and only marginally slip into my overdraft. Then I decided to start a career-enhancing but money-sucking course.  I am still somewhat trying to stick to new year resolutions – less on frivolous, more on life-enhancing pursuits. And so far, so skint. Money landed in my account on January 28, rested a couple of days and by Feb 1 we were separated. Gone – just.like.that.

Not letting a lack of funds stop me, I decided to check out the best Manchester has to offer on a budget.  And well, you don’t ask you don’t get. Unsurprisingly, the city has a lot going on and many of the most exciting events taking place are free, or very cheap.

Every Monday, The Royal Exchange theatre offers people aged 26 and under the best available seats for £4;  and while I can still avail of this offer for one more month I managed to catch Blythe Spirit in its final week for a bargain price.  Having already head rave reviews since the show opened in December I was really looking forward to it.

Initially I just could not warm to the characters. Perhaps it is the adopted northerner in me, but the twee introduction of a upper-class 1920’s couple – writer husband and actress wife recount a heady period when they invite a psychic to their home for an evening as part of the husband’s research for his next book. None of the characters assume a very sympathetic role in the beginning and the couple along with their two friends appear to have joined in for the free food and non-stop martini chasing and chain-smoking, which left me wondering if the upper-class elite in the 1920’s were all bored alcoholics. And of course, in all the hilarity, the husband doesn’t bargain on his dead wife being resurrected in the process. The display of formal communication between the characters results in the audience being aware that such a stiff dialogue died a long time ago, and it’s resurrection here did feel a little staid and self-aware in the opening scene.

So Blythe Spirit doesn’t get off to the most auspicious start, but it is the dramatic introduction of hilarious psychic Mrs Arcati, played by Annette Badland, that really lifts the play from passable to surpassable in expectation. Badland’s presence enhances the emotion and the laughs;  and brought out the talents and comic timing of the other characters. Suranne Jones, of Coronation Street fame, once all manc-lite dialect and gold hoop earrings is incredibly deft and captivating as the hard-done-by wife . With a little patience on the viewer’s part, once the production hit its stride the production shines and is a real winner. If the cheap seats are not available or the theatre isn’t your thing then the eponymous film is excellent, shot like an Alice in Wonderland for adults – gothic, dark-humoured and captivating from first cocktail sip until the eventual demise of all concerned.

Alan Fletcher’s exhibition – 50 Years of Graphic Work and Play – previewed last Thursday at Cube gallery (free entry on preview night, £4 after).

Peter Saville opened the show with a heartfelt introduction to the work of Alan Fletcher the artist and an insight into the creatives’ relationship as friends. The show maps out Fletcher’s life in images, taking us from his early post- Royal College of Art posters, to the arresting work that grew out of his co-founded design agency Pentagram and on to later life as he produced work as Creative Consultant for Phaidon from his home studio.  Fletcher-poineering British graphic designer, originating a visual identity for brands as far-reaching as V&A identity maker,  indie band visualiser and Phaidon book cover artist, this show was a great triumph for Cube Gallery, as well as the North West.

Being perennially skint these days means my socialising/culture fix is confined to the North West, so it is a great coincidence that there are so many quality events to take advantage, and get more holla’ for the dolla’.  A new show at the Whitworth GalleryWalls are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture (free entry) aims to challenge our sedentary view of wallpaper as the radio of the art world; a polite, non-demanding aesthetic but one that is often understated.  The show is divided in to four sections – subversion, commodification, imprisonment and sexuality.

Each room acts as a visual debate on whether wallpaper should be seen as design first, a game played with the senses of the viewer second. The artists exhibiting here, including Sarah Lucas, Damian Hirst and David Shirgley; seem to be more concerned with the latter.  Wallpaper is a strange, unpredictable art-form; it serves to cover and conceal people’s most private places such as their homes but paradoxically it can reveal so much about the person who possesses it. These artists have taken this idea and used the space to allow their realities to emerge from a fixed pattern and the exhibition demonstrates brilliantly when that freedom from a frame or plinth is used to its fullest extent we can appreciate wallpaper as a medium from a very different perspective.

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