Monday, May 30, 2011

Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre

The Royal Exchange Theatre has been a part of my life for most of my life.
For those not in the know (you will be people who have never been to Manchester, because if you have been you would have obviously visited the theatre), the Royal Exchange is a three tier theatre in the round housed within the magnificent Great Hall of the Royal Exchange buildings that was Manchester's trading centre used from the late 19th to early 20th century.
One of my earliest memories is seeing my mum walk through the stage as part of a crowd in (I think) the musical Leaping Ginger. She wasn't meant to be part of the performance, but we had tickets on the top tier and my mum had a dreaded fear of heights, so asked to be reseated, the only way to do this was to have her walk through the set at an opportune moment. Me and my sister sat amazed as we watched her parade through.
The theatre opened in 1978 and has seen an array of famous actors perform there. It always seems to me that the theatre itself is always the star and the intimacy of it makes even the grandest of luvvies that little bit humbler and makes for exceptional performances.
On Saturday 15th June 1996 the IRA bomb that destroyed large chunks of Manchester town centre also severely damaged the theatre. Walking towards the theatre a couple of weeks after that, in an eerily silent Manchester, seeing the bulding with blown out windows and looking like it would never reopen was one of the saddest things I've ever seen.
The theatre company managed to soldier on for the next couple of years with a travelling tent that housed a replica of the ground level of the stage. They even managed to reopen better than ever, in November 1998 with a second smaller performance space being launched.
I have a lot of memories of seeing stuff at the Royal Exchange, watching my dad enjoying Andy Capp: The Musical ("good old legs, what are your legs for? Walking!"), my mum's only stage performance, a sneaky afternoon off seeing a matinee of Waiting For Godot (I'm a rebel!), my wife and I laughing hysterically at a preview perfomance of Charley's Aunt and so many more.
Even memories of what I recall as bad productions leave good memories, my mum and I did something very rare and left at the interval of a production of Pinter's The Caretaker starring Charlie Drake, you can't like everything!
So thanks for the memories and keeping me cheerful.
One of the theatre's founders Richard Negri, has further details of the history of the theatre on his website.

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