On the 23 June the Royal Exchange Theatre reopens after more than a year of the doors being closed to the public with Roy Alexander Weise and Bryony Shanahan’s first programme as Artistic Directors. Bursting with life, these plays and events celebrate the remarkable in human beings and unapologetically rip apart ideas of love, self-discovery, protest, faith and resilience – all of which have been under intense focus for us all this past year. Bold and radical playwriting meet a thrilling cross section of the next generation of directors and makers; bringing sharp wit and inventive thinking to a collection of intimate and epic plays, performances, installations and events that wrestle with who we are now both as individuals and as communities. This new programme invites the people of Greater Manchester and beyond back into the Theatre, to take up space, be present, honest, joyful and build the future together.
The Royal Exchange Theatre and Bruntwood continue to make plans for the next round of THE BRUNTWOOD PRIZE FOR PLAYWRITING. Telling new stories, together in a single space has never felt so important and can play a vital role in how we begin to process everything that has happened to us and our world in the last 12months. The Exchange is planning and preparing for a Prize that will happen soon – so watch this space.
- Joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan opens the programme with the World Premiere of BLOODY ELLE – A GIG MUSICAL. Written and performed by Lauryn Redding, BLOODY ELLE is an uplifting, one-woman show about falling in love for the very first time. Eve’s eyes are green like guacamole, she has posh-hair and a freckle on her chin (that Elle thinks might be chocolate) and when she puts her hand on Elle’s arm… This heart-warming and belly-achingly funny story is stuffed full of those stomach-flipping-time-stopping moments; a touch, a glance, a kiss, that everyone will recognise. BLOODY ELLE is set to an original score, which Redding single-handedly builds into loops and layers of sound that make you feel like there’s a ten-piece band on stage, transporting the audience to a sweaty, packed out gig in the back of a pub or a 10,000 seat arena. BLOODY ELLE – A GIG MUSICAL is a Royal Exchange Theatre production in association with Rebel Productions and opens on 23 June and runs until 17 July.
- This summer the Elders and Young Company come together to create and perform a new intergenerational production, this time exploring all things funny. WIT & WISDOM promises to be an anarchic night in the Theatre – the perfect mismatch of chaos and calm, all with the very serious ambition of making (non)sense of the role laughter plays in our lives. Created by the Company, WIT & WISDOM is directed by Andy Barry and plays in the main space (the Module) on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 July.
- FLIGHT is a community-wide installation facilitating the remembrance of the lives, hopes and dreams lost to Covid-19. FLIGHT is an act of testimony beyond the statistics we receive every day. Curated by Julie Hesmondhalgh and Ian Kershaw this beautifully meditative, interactive piece invites people, either in person or remotely, to write a name, a memory, a reflection, a dream onto a piece of paper before transforming it into an origami bird. Collectively we will create a physical tapestry of lives, a growing installation of memory and hope, unleashed like thousands of birds in the sky, taking flight in the Exchange’s Great Hall. FLIGHT begins when the Exchange reopens, it will grow and evolve throughout the year and culminate in a communal gathering in 2022.
- The Theatre’s Local Exchange programme continued throughout lockdown, engaging Ambassador groups across Leigh, Cheetham Hill, Tameside and Beswick. This summer we proudly present THE DEN IN LEIGH. This festival is programmed in collaboration with the Leigh Ambassadors and local audiences will be able to enjoy a two-week programme of dynamic performances from the Exchange, innovative productions from UK touring companies and inspiring work, such as the winning plays from LocalTALE, by local artists. Readings, workshops, family events and much more will fill the Den, creating a unique festival experience. THE DEN is the Exchange’s pop-up theatre space, made possible by The Oglesby Charitable Trust and will take up residency for the first two weeks of August at Spinners Mill in Leigh, Greater Manchester. It runs from 4 August until 14 August.
- The Royal Exchange’s brand-new Young Company show, THE SURVIVORS’ GUIDE TO LIVING, is co-created by writer Zodwa Nyoni and the Royal Exchange Young Company Performers. Directed by 2017 Young Company alumni Anna Berentzen, it explores what it means to radically find happiness, yourself and imagination when the world feels like it doesn’t make sense. It runs in the Theatre from 26 to 28 August.
- In Stuart Slade’s achingly funny and heart-breaking Bruntwood Judges-Prize Winning comedy GLEE & ME, we meet 16-year-old Lola. She is sharp, witty and has her whole life ahead of her – until she’s diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. What’s always made Lola unique is her brilliant mind – a mind that’s rapidly turning into useless mush – but before she dies, Lola’s promised herself two things: 1. She’s going to get All The Sex and 2. She’ll definitively discover the Meaning of Life. Directed by Nimmo Ismail, who makes her Royal Exchange debut, GLEE & ME is a pitch-black, unexpectedly optimistic portrayal of love, friendship and the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit. Opening on 11 September the show will run in rep with THE MOUNTAINTOP until 30 October.
- Olivier Award-Winning play THE MOUNTAINTOP received a digital reading at the Exchange during lockdown as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Now Joint Artistic Director Roy Alexander Weise makes his Royal Exchange debut with a brand-new production of Katori Hall’s awesome play. Set during the height of America’s Civil Rights Movement, Hall imagines the eve of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Camae, a sexy, sassy, foul-mouthed maid, brings him a cup of coffee and the night takes an unexpected turn. This laugh-out-loud, visceral and powerful drama will play in rep with GLEE & ME and opens on 25 September until 30 October.
- Together with Liverpool’s Everyman and Eclipse Theatre, 18 pieces of new writing from ethnically diverse writers will be commissioned and performed at venues across the North of England. Curated by Rachel De-Lahay, MY WHITE BEST FRIEND – NORTH, is a powerful event where letters are opened and read live for the first time on stage by actors, laying bare the things their writers, up until now, have not dared to say about race, class, sexuality, identity. In the Exchange’s version of this daring show letters from Lemn Sissay, Cheryl Martin, Yusra Warsama, Nikhil Parmar, Mandla Rae and Samuel Rossiter are featured. MY WHITE BEST FRIEND – NORTH is a new iteration of My White Best Friend (and other letters left unsaid), originally performed at The Bunker and the Royal Court, and takes place in the Theatre on 23 and 30 October – each event will feature letters from different writers.
- WHEN THIS IS OVER is a collective expression of young voices curated by Company Three and brings together Youth Theatres from across the UK. In the Royal Exchange’s version of WHEN THIS IS OVER, Young Company Graduates come together with director Nickie Miles-Wildin to create a performance in which they wrestle with the things that have happened to them already, and the things that might happen for them in the future. Through these modest predictions for lives not yet lived we see ourselves for who we are right now – and how we want the world to change. WHEN THIS IS OVER will be performed in November 2021 during the 2021 United National Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.
- Doing exactly what is says on the tin DISRVPT is a brand-new programme of special events curated by Joint Artistic Directors Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise that seek to disrupt the equilibrium of the Exchange’s Great Hall. Working with artists from a wide variety of art-forms, the first DISRVPT event is sponsored by WarnerMedia and will take place this autumn; curated by Manchester based writer, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson. Check out our socials for a special post on DISRVPT on 25 May.
- Christmas at the Exchange brings a fairy-tale of sorts…THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART – a devilish offering from award-winning writer David Greig. This wild musical play sees Scottish folk songs collide with decadent karaoke. Oozing with wit, passion, seduction and sambucas, this show brings a riotous mix of rhyming couplets, live music and a glimpse of the underworld. It’s the winter solstice and lover of old things and traditional ways, Prudencia Hart, fresh from her PhD, is conference bound. In a hot stuffy hall on the borders, she shares her theories on Hell in folk literature. But, as the snow falls thick and fast the small town flings off its folk traditions, dumps Robert Burns for a bit of Kylie, and grabs the karaoke mic with both hands. The night gets increasingly raucous and it’s astonishing what Prudencia will discover between the snow and the vodka shots – not least, what she finds out about herself. Directed by Debbie Hannan, who makes their Royal Exchange debut, the production opens on 4 December and runs until 15 January.
- The Exchange will continue to support artists through development programmes and one-to-one development sessions. Currently the theatre is working on 11 commissions; of these artists, 9 are based in or from Greater Manchester and 9 are new to the theatre. There are also 5 development grants in process. We continue to work in collaboration with our Greater Manchester peers as part of the GM Artist Hub and as the Exchange reopens, we will revisit Open Exchange, the theatre’s Artists Networking Programme.
- The Royal Exchange will continue to embrace the digital world and for the first time will offer a digital release for those who can’t get to us, starting with a streamed version of BLOODY ELLE – A GIG MUSICAL. This offer comes with captioning and audio description. The Theatre will continue to explore a digital offering for future productions.
- The 15 September marks 45 years since the Royal Exchange opened its doors to the public. The Theatre will be celebrating this Birthday and raising a toast to the next 45 years! More information to follow.
- The Royal Exchange’s ticket pricing structure has been reworked to make theatre more accessible for all, offering a much broader range of ticket prices than ever before, including Pay What You Decide seats for every performance. Ticket prices for BLOODY ELLE begin at £5.
- The Exchange’s Studio Theatre will currently be used to support the work of our resident companies – the Elders and the Young Company – and our Engagement work, creating a dedicated space to explore, make and create new work. As we move forwards the Studio will remain under review.
- At the Exchange we can’t wait to safely invite audiences back to live theatre and want to make sure everyone feels comfortable. Therefore, we are opening with socially distanced seating and sanitising stations are readily available throughout the theatre. We will be following all government COVID safety standards.
Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise said…
It’s been a long road getting to this moment but we’re so proud to finally announce our first programme as Artistic Directors. So much has changed – for us, the world and our theatre. But what hasn’t changed is our belief in the essential need for people to gather together in a communal experience and to grapple with what it means to be human and to co-exist.
Since we closed the theatre, we’ve asked ourselves what will be needed or wanted by audiences and communities. The truth is, there is no singular answer. Whether its humour, or catharsis, provocation or activism, we knew it had to be rooted in our collective yearning for truth, freedom, authenticity and connection. These epic stories – even in their intimacy – ask some huge questions; and like any good story, can give us the tools again to engage with our real world and all of the different kinds of people we might find in it.
It has never felt more potent a time to say that we do not just exist to make excellent art. We exist to connect people through excellent theatre and opportunities to participate. Our work with non-professionals also comes to the fore offering all the opportunities to see, enjoy and celebrate all of the brilliant work that the Royal Exchange does as a civic, communal space and a world class theatre.
There were moments in the past 12 months when we wondered if the Royal Exchange could survive this. The outpouring of love and support was fuel for us in some of our darkest moments; we are so thankful from the bottom of our hearts. The Royal Exchange Theatre is absolutely and categorically here to stay for future generations of Greater Manchester to enjoy. This year will see us celebrate our 45th Birthday and we are pumped for another 45 years of coming together in one of the most unique venues in the country. I mean, come on, where else is it impossible to watch a play without watching someone else watch the play, and whilst basically sitting in a spaceship?! An arena in the round; like an epic embrace welcoming you back home again or the first embrace to let you know that this is, and forever will be, a place you can belong. We absolutely cannot wait to see you.