For the first time the Royal Exchange Theatre reveals a programme of work that spans 12 months.
An inspiring mix of bold contemporary plays, new writing and cast-iron classics, this programme is a celebration of the unique experience of making theatre and watching live stories unfold in a space as distinctive as the Royal Exchange’s in-the-round theatre.
Embracing the energy and power of award-winning, established and new-generation theatre artists, Joint Artistic Directors Roy Alexander Weise and Bryony Shanahan have shaped a year of theatre that journeys through domestic settings to science fiction and cult-classics, culminating in a brand-new sort of musical from Maxine Peake, Seiriol Davies and Sarah Frankcom.
Full of joy, sharp wit and inventive thinking this programme galvanises us all to dream big, share stories and have fun.
- Royal Exchange Joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan opens the programme with a brand-new production of Stef Smith’s NORA: A DOLLS HOUSE, a searing adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 A DOLL’S HOUSE. Three distinct and remarkable Noras illuminate this cleverly distilled play by one of the UKs most exciting contemporary playwrights. Together these women shape, change and define the future for themselves and for all those who come after. Spanning 100 years of women’s liberation from voting rights to contraception and modern-day life this is a muscular domestic thriller that packs a punch – a battle cry, a roar, a ripple of hope. Award-winning Stef Smith (ENOUGH, HUMAN ANIMALS) makes her Exchange debut with this deftly beautiful play originally seen at the Citizens Theatre in 2019. Following her uplifting production of BLOODY ELLE – A GIG MUSICAL that reopened the theatre, Bryony Shanahan delivers her vision of this gripping story of female empowerment. NORA: A DOLLS HOUSE runs from 4 Mar – 2 Apr 2022.
- Winner of the 2017 Bruntwood Prize Judges’ Award Tim Foley’s ELECTRIC ROSARY is a funny and moving exploration of faith and humanity. The Sisters of St Grace are dwindling in numbers, divine inspiration is at an all-time low and a council-funded robot-nun has just been invited to join their convent. Set in a time where nuns are scarce and robots are commonplace, this new play explores how artificial intelligence influences what we choose to believe in. Directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart (CIVILISATION, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS) ELECTRIC ROSARY sees the world of prayers and hymns collide with that of glitching and binary. Sharply funny, Tim Foley’s (ASTRONAUTS OF HARTLEPOOL) acutely observed play places questions of faith, spirituality and humanity alongside technological advancement and a robotic future. 2017 Prize judge Russell T Davies said…. “I love this play, it’s a such radical mix of ancient and modern, old traditions colliding with brand new technology. And for a piece which could sound experimental – it’s got a robot nun! – the writing is actually tender, honest and insightful. It’s a beautiful examination of faith, no matter what you believe in.” ELECTRIC ROSARY can be seen in from 23 Apr – 14 May 2022.
- HAIR, WIGS AND WAKE-UP: A commitment to care for afro & multitextured hair, is the latest digital project from the Royal Exchange Theatre. Following consultations with performers the Exchange reschooled their thought process on how best to serve multi-textured hair types. The result is a brand-new series of short educational films created by the Exchange’s Wigs, Hair and Make-up Lead Joanna Shepstone and Consultant Hair Stylist and Co-creator Gege Uboma of The Afro Curly Hair Coach. These two exceptional hair professionals have joined forces, sharing knowledge, skills and a passion for excellent hair care to create eight films designed to contribute to and enhance the knowledge of theatrical wigs & hair care for performers with afro and multi-textured hair. These films will be free to access via the Exchange’s website and social platforms from April 2022.
- A portrait of celebrated actor Ira Aldridge was the very first art work purchased by Manchester Art Gallery in 1827. Now, in 2022, Royal Exchange Joint Artistic Director Roy Alexander Weise brings his extraordinary story to the Manchester stage in a brand-new production of Lolita Chakrabarti’s (HYMN, LIFE OF PI) award-winning RED VELVET. This powerful play explores the far-reaching social repercussions of Aldridge’s infamous performance, a seminal moment in theatrical and social history. As riots took place in the streets of London over the Abolition of Slavery, a young and revolutionary African American actor – Ira Aldridge – stepped into Covent Garden to fill the shoes of London’s greatest actor Edmund Kean. Ira’s Othello was radical, his craft was progressive and his movements were shockingly ‘real’ – it was unlike anything London had ever seen. But when he passionately grabs his Desdemona it’s not just his radical technique that his fellow actors and London critics choose to seize upon. Following his critically acclaimed production of THE MOUNATINTOP, Roy Alexander Weise brings a new intimacy to this stunning play, celebrating Ira’s incredible life and extraordinary contribution to theatre. RED VELVET runs from 27 May – 25 Jun 2022.
- THE DEN IN CHEETHAM HILL – Mirroring the spaceship like theatre found in the city centre THE DEN is the Royal Exchange’s sustainable mobile theatre which will be ‘popping-up’ in Cheetham Hill this July. Programmed by the Cheetham Hill Ambassadors in partnership with the Royal Exchange this beautiful wooden and canvas theatre will be home to a multitude of projects from community plays to workshops, readings, family events and so much more. The Den forms an integral part of the LOCAL EXCHANGE programme which is supported by The Oglesby Charitable Trust and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
- THE GLASS MENAGERIE is Tennessee Williams’ poetic and bruising portrayal of a family on the brink of change. Award-winning director Atri Banerjee (HARM) returns to the Exchange following his acclaimed production of HOBSON’S CHOICE. Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical memory play pulls apart the complex dynamics of an oppressive family life, and shows how unpredictable, painful and volatile memory can be. Tom remembers; he recalls his mother Amanda, his sister Laura and the overwhelming responsibility of family ties that bind you for life. But memory is fragile and the clarity of truth and recollection is clouded over time. This intimate classic is given a fresh perspective by director Atri Banerjee and runs in the theatre from 2 Sep – 8 Oct 2022.
- Enchanting and brutal, chilling and beautiful Jack Thorne’s (HIS DARK MATERIALS, HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD) adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist cult novel LET THE RIGHT ONE IN finds a new home on the unique stage of the Royal Exchange Theatre. In a world where adults are failing them, two teenage outsiders are drawn to each other. One a bullied, isolated teenage boy, the other a feral, lonely and dangerous vampire. And so begins a chilling and unlikely friendship. Separated by centuries and rejected by society they find salvation in each other. This unforgettable vampire story has gained cult status across the world, it is a sharp and reflective coming-of-age story that asks its audience to recognise and value the humanity in us all. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is directed by Royal Exchange Joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan and runs from 22 Oct – 19 Nov 2022.
- THE BRUNTWOOD PRIZE FOR PLAYWRITING, created in partnership with Bruntwood and The Oglesby Charitable Trust, is back. Submissions will open in January 2022 before closing on 6th June. Established writers and those who may never have written a play are encouraged to submit through an anonymous judging process, meaning each entry is judged on its own merit. Those looking to try their hand at playwriting ahead of submissions opening can find a wealth of free resources on the writeaplay website, including hugely popular online workshops from some of the industry’s top professionals. Further details – including the 2022 prize categories and the announcement of the judging panel – will be released in January.
- BETTY! A SORT OF MUSICAL is brand-new, written by and starring Maxine Peake and Seiriol Davies and directed by former Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom. In a small village hall, The Dewsbury Players (Yorkshire’s most passionate, dedicated and inventive amateur-dramatics society), have come together to celebrate their most eminent local hero, Dewsbury-born Betty Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House. Meredith, her daughter Angela, four equally devoted women (and Calvin), are ready to create the most awesome musical Yorkshire has ever seen! Emboldened by their heroine’s indefatigable tenacity, this amateur group prove themselves to be extraordinary women on and off stage. The award-winning writer, performer and composer Seiriol Davies (HOW TO WIN AGAINST HISTORY) joins forces with the brilliant creative partnership of Maxine Peake and Sarah Frankcom (THE SKRIKER, HAPPY DAYS, THE LAST TESTAMENT OF LILLIAN BILOCCA, THE NICO PROJECT) who have developed some of Manchester’s most original theatre productions. At a time when everything seems so polarised, BETTY is a celebration of the human spirit, a joyful and uplifting reflection of the gumption, bravery and strength it takes to speak out. For the Dewsbury Players it is a tribute to the unexpected rewards that can come from thinking outside of the dispatch box. BETTY! A SORT OF MUSICAL runs from 3 December 2022 – 14 January 2023.
- The Royal Exchange Theatre’s DISRVPT programme – a series 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 – will continue throughout the year including another event sponsored by WarnerMedia in Autumn 2022.
- The Exchange’s resident award-winning companies – the Young Company and Elders Company – will continue to make, shape and develop work across the year to be seen in the theatre, in the Den and across Greater Manchester. THE DREAM PROJECT, currently under development, will form an integral part of Elders programme next year. This exciting new project led by award-wining theatre artist Cheryl Martin, is for older African and African Caribbean Diaspora people from Greater Manchester who want to tell their story. Following on from the success of the Young Company’s show THE SURVIVORS GUIDE TO LIVING director, and Young Company alumni, Anna Berenzten returns to direct an epic summer production.
Artistic Directors Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise said, “What we love about this programme of work is that it’s hard to stick it in a box. We wanted to shape a year that really did have something for everyone, to create as many opportunities as possible for audiences across Greater Manchester to come and experience incredible plays.
These productions are a celebration of how expansive and universal theatre can be, how joy and laughter sit right next to gut-wrenching emotion – and the fact that we all get to share this rollercoaster of a journey together can never be underestimated again after the last 18months.
We are thrilled to bring a brilliant team of artists together to work on huge, time-honoured stories like Ibsen’s THE DOLLS HOUSE and Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE and to see what fresh perspectives contemporary artists – Stef Smith, Atri Banerjee, the two of us – can find for today in these epic plays. At the Exchange we have always championed new writing so we cannot wait to bring Tim Foley’s Bruntwood play about robots and nuns to the stage, along with a truly original new sort-of musical inspired by Betty Boothroyd, from Maxine, Seiriol and Sarah.
This programme is about everyone finding something for themselves, it smashes together the old and the new so that we make something fresh that is reflective and relevant to our world today. It is an opportunity for us all to share stories, perspectives and just experience something incredibly special, together. What we all need is a little entertainment, and we hope that the next 12months at the Exchange will bring just that.”