Manchester's theatre scene is in its element, not least because the city has benefited from a recent wave of arts funding, and Manchester theatres are an eclectic bunch. Whether you're looking for cutting-edge plays – the likes of which you'll find at the quirky, fort-like Contact Theatre – or an opera within the plush confines of the Palace Theatre, you're sure to find a stage to suit in the city.
The Lowry's three theatre spaces present a range of work dazzling in its variety. The Lyric Theatre seats almost 2,000 people, its warm purple interior, enormous stage and superb sightlines making the likes of 'War Horse' and 'Wicked' a much more comfortable (and affordable) experience than you'd get in London. The Quays Theatre offers a smaller, more intimate space, and the Studio is the focus for new companies and community productions.
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.
The history of the Palace Theatre is as impressive as some of the performances that take place on its stage. Known as The Grand Old Lady of Oxford Street, it was built in 1891 and it took a direct hit during the Manchester Blitz. Since then, its fortunes have been mixed, with the likes of Judy Garland, Laurel and Hardy and Noel Coward providing the ups and the depressing slump in audiences across the country in the 1970s providing the downs.
With its striking architecture resembling a castle straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen tale, you could easily mistake Contact for a children's fun palace. You'd be quite wrong. According to its website, 'Contact's vision is a world where young people are empowered by creativity to become leaders in both the arts and their communities'. Such lofty ideals have resulted in a venue that produces some of the most unconventional, experimental and challenging work in the region.
Dating back to 1912, the Opera House has undergone a number of transformations and renovations – at one point it even became a bingo hall. But new owners, Ambassador's Theatre Group, have invested a lot of time and money in ensuring that the technical facilities match a modern venue and, as a result, both the Opera House and the Palace have been proud hosts of the 'Manchester Gets It First' series of premieres.
At a time when many arts organisations have struggled to maintain their grants from the Arts Council, Bury Met celebrates a £3million award, contributing towards the development of its site and programme in 2014. The award is testament to the valuable work the theatre does in its two performance spaces, and with events such as the Ramsbottom Festival.
Described by The Guardian as 'the most revitalised regional theatre in the country', The Octagon Theatre continues to produce excellent work inside its main midsize theatre and studio space. The main space is one of the theatre's greatest assets. Its flexibility allows for work in all formats – end stage, in the round, thrust – so that the presentation of work is as varied as the work itself.
Right now, a city centre area of Manchester is cooking up quite a feast. Take two, well established cultural stalwarts (Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre), throw in around £25 million and mix well. Sound like a tasty treat? Well, when one of these organisations is renowned for its contemporary take on visual arts and its independent and foreign language cinema, and the other for Alan Ayckbourn revivals, it certainly bodes well.