It Felt Like A Kiss, Hardman Square, Manchester

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It begins even before you get inside the building. There is a big list of warnings to the audience. It will be a promenade production with stairs to climb and uneven surfaces.

There will be strobes and smoke. It won't be suitable for anyone with a heart condition. One woman in my group was so spooked that she turned around and left before we even got in the lift of the empty office block where this multi-media piece was to begin.

It Felt Like a Kiss moves from the 1950s to the present, telling the story of America's shift from the confidence of post-war Fifties Hollywood through the political and cultural turmoil of the Sixties and the social revolutions of the decades that followed: the Cold War, the assassination of JFK, Vietnam, the Black Panthers, the legalisation of homosexuality, and the credit boom.

The audience moves through rooms decked out like a film set of each period, inhabited by creepy mannequins. In each room, screens relay evocative archive footage against a sinister atmospheric background score by Damon Albarn, so that you feel you are a character in some weird movie.

It is a powerful journey, through rooms deserted with the cherry pie half eaten as in some domestic US Marie Celeste. There is a poignant tableau of a father looking at his sleeping child as the world waits to be blown to smithereens as the Bay of Pigs crisis unfolds. And director Adam Curtis has done an extraordinary archive trawl to find curios like an architect condemning the World Trade Centre towers as "satanic" even as they were being built.

So some of the detail is intriguing, like Carole King's eponymous song prompted by a woman saying her man beat her because he loved her and when he hit her it felt like a kiss. And some of it is disturbing, like the footage of a napalm victim which Curtis has looped so that the boy's death throes take on a grisly choreography.

But there is too much of the smell of conspiracy in the air, as Curtis splices together meaning with a simplistic political intent. There's also something unremittingly apocalyptic and relentlessly anti-American about it. Curtis should have found something nearer to home to criticise and been a bit more subtle about it. It felt like a kick.

To 19 July (0844 815 4960;