An intimate theatre whose building is as fascinating as the consistently impressive programmes
With five decades of top quality plays to its name, the Royal Exchange Theatre remains consistently popular. But it's not all about what happens on stage - the building itself is worth the visit alone.
Drop an enclosed, seven sided glass and steel pod into the middle of a grand Victorian cotton exchange in the city centre – replete with high, stained glass domed ceilings, vast sturdy pillars and expansive floorspace – and you've got the Royal Exchange. It's a stunning spot.
And whilst a trip to the old building itself is a pleasure, it's what takes place inside the seven hundred seater space that makes visiting such an unmissable experience. Looking up at images of the famous performers who have appeared there throughout the years – John Thaw, Vanessa Redgrave, Tom Courtney – offers a glimpse at the standard.
Nearly everything is in the round. The audience are mainly at stage level but there are two viewing galleries above, so the stage is surrounded. It's an intimate space, with the audience close to the action.
As a production house, the Royal Exchange presents a good mix of crowd pleasers and more left-field productions (the addition of a studio space in recent years allows a few more risks, which is welcome). There are about four main shows per season, running in tandem with one-off special events and poetry readings. It's little surprise, then, to see the likes of Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams alongside Neil LaBute.
Current Artistic Director, Sarah Frankcom, is bringing some interesting work to the Exchange, branching out into musicals with 'Sweeney Todd' and casting Maxine Peake as Hamlet. Its success, therefore, looks set to continue.