The North West’s most startling and acclaimed producing theatre opened
in 1976 in the equally-beautiful 1874 grade II-listed former Manchester Cotton Exchange. The unique, 750-seater glass and steel module is suspended on girders from four giant pillars supporting the roof of the massive Great Hall, and is one of the most innovative theatre spaces in the UK.
In 1996 an IRA bomb damaged the building but the theatre – built on shock absorbers – survived intact. Around £32m was spent on rebuilding and a 120-seat studio theatre added.
More famous-name actors have played the Royal Exchange’s intimate in-the-round stage than all other English reps
combined, from Ben Kingsley to Helen Mirren, Albert Finney to Andy Serkis; while today Maxine Peak and Julie Hesmondhalgh are keen supporters. Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Michael Sheen, David Tennant and Andrew Garfield all appeared here, long before fame. Nowadays trading far less on starry names and knocking corners off its "posh" image, the Exchange works with local communities and new writers (its Bruntwood Playwriting Competition is the biggest in the UK) while still being a standard-bearer for regional theatres.
Know your theatre:
CAUTION: until theatre resumes fully following the Covid restrictions, check with the theatre and book tickets and meals ahead before travelling
Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann's Square, Manchester, M2 7DH
Box office: 0161 833 9833 (also groups and schools), Reception 0161 833 9333.
As well as the magnificent theatre and studio, the Royal Exchange takes full advantage of its Great Hall setting with a restaurant, bar, gift shop and cafe. The mezzanine gallery also has interesting art displays
Parking is subject to the usual city centre problems. On-street parking is minimal and car parks expensive. The Exchange is partnered with this Q-Park and offers a good discount if you validate your ticket at the theatre box office; closer (and more expensive) is the NCP car park over the Deansgate junction with Blackfriars St, under the Travelodge hotel.