Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester


The theatre is based in the Manchester Royal Exchange, a large Victorian building used until 1968 for cotton trading.


The Royal Exchange gives an average of 350 performances a year of nine professional theatre productions. These productions are occasionally transferred to London, or toured in a 400 seat mobile theatre.

The company performs a varied programme including classic theatre and revivals, contemporary drama, and original new writing. Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov have been the mainstay of its repertoire but the theatre has also staged important classics from other areas of the canon including the British premieres of "La Ronde" and "The Prince Of Homburg" and important revivals of "The Lower Depths", "Don Carlos" and "The Dybbuk". American work has also been important - Tennessee Williams, O'Neill, Miller, August Wilson - as has new writing, with the world premieres of "The Dresser", "Amongst Barbarians", "A Wholly Healthy Glasgow" and "Port" to its name.

In addition to its own productions the Royal Exchange also presents visiting theatre companies in The Studio; folk, jazz and rock concerts; and discussions, readings and literary events.

Performance spaces

The Royal Exchange Theatre has two performance spaces:

The theatre

This is a seven-sided steel and glass module that squats within the Great Hall of the Manchester Royal Exchange. It is a pure theatre in the round in which the stage area is surrounded on all sides, and above, by seating.

The theatre can seat up to 700 people on three levels, making it the largest theatre in the round in Britain. There are 400 seats at ground level in a raked configuration, above which lie two galleries, each with 150 seats set in two rows.

As the floor of the Exchange would not be able to take the great weight of the theatre and its audience, the module is suspended from four massive columns that also carry the hall's central dome. Only the stage area and ground-level seating rest on the floor of the hall itself.

The theatre's unique design was conceived by Richard Negri of Wimbledon School of Art, and was intended to create an unusually vivid and immediate relationship between actors and audiences.

The studio

This is a 100 seat studio theatre of flexible configuration. This space acts as host to a programme of visiting touring theatre companies and performances for young people.



The Royal Exchange Theatre was founded in 1976 in the old Cotton Exchange in Manchester by a group of artistic directors — Michael Elliott, Caspar Wrede, Richard Negri, James Maxwell and Braham Murray — a group whose origins lay in the 59 and later 69 Theatre Companies whose work had had such an impact first in London and then Manchester. In 1979 the artistic directorship was augmented by the appointment of Gregory Hersov. Hersov and Braham Murray are the last surviving members of the original group.

The IRA bomb and its aftermath

On 15 June 1996 the IRA detonated a massive bomb in Manchester city centre, 50 metres from the Exchange in nearby Corporation Street. Damage to the building was extensive, making performances impossible.

Repairs took over two years to complete and cost £32 million, a sum provided by the National Lottery. Whilst its home was being rebuilt the company performed in its mobile theatre, which was set up in an indoor market building in nearby Castlefield.

As well as repairing the theatre the rebuilding programme also added a second performance space, The Studio, as well as a bookshop, craft shop, restaurant, bars, and rooms for corporate hospitality. The theatre's workshops, costume department and rehearsal rooms were moved to a second site on Swan Street.

The refurbished theatre was re-opened on 30 November 1998 by Prince Edward. The opening production was Stanley Houghton's "Hindle Wakes", the play which would be presented on the day when the bomb went off.

In 1999 the Royal Exchange was awarded the title of "Theatre of the Year" in the Barclays Theatre Awards, in recognition of its successful refurbishment and ambitious re-opening season.

Notable people associated with the Royal Exchange Theatre

Over the years the Exchange has attracted a high calibre of actor to its stage from Albert Finney, Leo McKern and Tom Courtenay in the early days through successive generations including Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren and Robert Lindsay to figures such as Janet McTeer and Amanda Donohoe. It has also had a reputation for spotting young actors before they became megastars. Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant both appeared at the Royal Exchange long before they made it on film.

The Exchange has also had a knack of spotting directorial and design talent before they went onto greater things. Adrian Noble, Nicholas Hytner, Phyllida Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Robert Delamare, Matthew Lloyd and Marrianne Elliott all directed at the Exchange as associate or artistic directors at some stage and designers such as Mark Thomas, Rae Smith and Lez Brotherston have all done important work there.

The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition

Launched in 2001, the Royal Exchange its own playwriting competition. The aim of the competition is to encourage a new generation of playwrights. Originally the prize started with two regional based competitions, and between them they attracted between them over 400 entries. The first two competitions resulted in three festivals of new writing which showcased eight new writers. One of these eight writers, Nick Leather subsequently become writer in residence, his Pearson Award winning script "All The Ordinary Angels" was produced at the Theatre in October 2005.

The competition is open to writers of all experience aged 18 and over from throughout the UK and Ireland. It uses an an anonymous selection process which allows both novices and professionals to compete alongside each other under pseudonyms.

In November 2005, the Theatre and Bruntwood, a Manchester based property company, joined forces which enabled the search for the best unperformed and original plays to go nationwide. A staggering 1800 scripts were submitted in 2006 for consideration.

2006's winner was Ben Musgrave with "Pretend You Have Big Buildings". The winning playwright received £15,000 and the play was performed on the main stage as part of the Manchester International Festival 2007.

2nd prize and £10,000 was awarded to Duncan Macmillan with "Monster", which was also performed during the Manchester International Festival in The Studio. Duncan then became writer-in-residence at the Theatre during 2007 and received a bursary of £5,000.

£5,000 - 3rd prize - was awarded to Phil Porter for "The Cracks In My Skin", which was performed in The Studio in February 2008.

Other prizes awarded in 2007 were The Under 26 Prize - £5,000 - which went to Matt Hartley for his play "Sixty Five Miles". Finally, The North West Prize went to Ian Kershaw with "Candy Land".

2008's competition was launched in March. Judge's this year include Brenda Blethyn, Michael Sheen, Roger Michell and actor/director Richard Wilson. This years winners have yet to be announced.


The Royal Exchange building and the theatre itself are reputed to be haunted. One of the ghosts is reputed to be that of the actor and founding artistic director, James Maxwell. Another is that of a maternal Victorian lady, well dressed and with "a passion for drink".

In 2006, the building was the subject of a paranormal investigation by the Most Haunted programme on Living TV.

External links

* [ The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester]
* [ Reviews of Manchester Theatre]
* [ What's On At The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester]
* [ The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition 2008]
* [ The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition 2008 Blog]
* [;action=display;threadid=144&start=0 Manchester Area Psychogeographic] Examination of some of the architectural influences on the theatre and the building it is in.


* The Biggest Room in the World: A Short History of the Royal Exchange. RDH Scott. 1976. Royal Exchange Theatre Trust. ISBN 0-85972-033-0

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