Maxine Peake to portray 'dark side' of Velvet Underground's Nico

Maxine Peake as NicoImage copyright
Jon Shard

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Maxine Peake as Nico

Nico, the chanteuse who was the original femme fatale of 1960s art-rock, is to be portrayed in a new stage show starring Maxine Peake.

The German-born singer is best known for her vocals on the seminal 1967 album The Velvet Underground and Nico.

But the show, titled The Nico Project, will focus on her bleak 1968 solo album The Marble Index. She later faded from the limelight and died in 1988.

The show will be staged in July at the Manchester International Festival.

Peake, who has starred in Peterloo, Black Mirror and Three Girls, said she was attracted by Nico’s “dark side”.

“Where does that come from?” she asked. “I remember first listening to The Marble Index in my late teens in a dark room and I felt very uneasy about it.

“It takes you to uncomfortable places, but it’s beautiful at the same time. And I’m just fascinated with people who allow that to really seep out of them, to express that and to go to those places that most of us try to avoid.”

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Getty Images

Real name Christa Päffgen, Nico started out as a model and had a small part in Federico Fellini’s 1960 classic La Dolce Vita.

She was then installed as one of the “superstars” of Andy Warhol’s Factory and lent her icy vocals to The Velvet Underground, becoming one of the most striking figures of the 1960s scene.

Her subsequent solo career was folk-inspired at first but then took a gothic turn with The Marble Index.

But she was also a heroin addict and spent some of the final years of her life living in flats and squats in Manchester and Salford.

All-female creative team

Peake told BBC News: “You look at her work and it’s extraordinary – the artistry and the depth. It’s very dark, it’s very complex, it’s very challenging.

“I think she’s been such a huge influence especially on a lot of female artists, and currently you can hear a lot of [her] influence.”

The show has an all-female creative team, led by director Sarah Frankcom. Peake added: “Sarah said she wants it to be one of the most exposing pieces of work I’ve done, so I’m like, crikey, OK. So that’s exciting. And nerve-racking.”

The full Manchester International Festival line-up was announced on Thursday and will also include:

  • Harry Potter and How to Get Away with Murder star Alfred Enoch will star in Tree, a piece of gig theatre about South Africa created by Idris Elba and Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah
  • Film-maker David Lynch will stage his biggest UK art exhibition to date alongside film screenings and gigs at the Home arts centre
  • Composer Philip Glass will collaborate with director Phelim McDermott on Tao Of Glass, inspired by fragments from their own lives – with puppetry
  • Grime star Skepta is staging a rave in a secret venue, inspired by the history and his vision of the future of rave culture
  • Other artists taking part include Yoko Ono, Tania Bruguera, Rambert, Claire Cunningham and Janelle Monae

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