The Royal Exchange theatre is unlike any theatre I've come across before. Situated in the heart of Manchester city centre the theatre is housed in the great hall of the old Cotton Exchange building. In contrast to the building the theatre itself is a steel and glass module which provides a fantastic setting for theatre in the round for an audience of up to 700 people.
Around performance times the venue is a bustling theatre packed with theatre goers but outside those times I find it to be an oasis of calm amidst the madness of a thriving city centre.
Despite living about 40 miles away and having several excellent theatres nearer home I have been going to the Royal Exchange regularly for the last two and a half years both to see some of the diverse range of productions or just for a coffee whilst I'm in Manchester for other reasons. I have nothing but praise for the venue, the staff and the productions that I have been lucky enough to enjoy.
Box Office and ticket booking:
As in most venues there are three ways to book tickets for productions at the theatre, over the phone, through the theatres website or in person at the box office which is situated just inside the main hall of the theatre building.
In my experience the box office staff are always pleasant and helpful and often go out of their way to ensure you get the tickets you're after. On one occasion I wasn't able to get a ticket for a performance I wanted to see and so booked a ticket for a later date. I was sitting having a coffee in the theatre bar half an hour later when a member of the box office staff came over to tell me that tickets for my first performance had been returned and if I'd like to exchange these for the tickets I'd purchased I could do so free of charge, something I've never experienced elsewhere.
I have found that the website booking system is also very easy to use. When booking over the phone or online tickets can be posted out to you for a small charge (50p) or collected from the box office. When posted out tickets tend to arrive within a couple of days or booking and when collecting tickets from the box office is a quick and straight forward process.
Seating and ticket costs:
Due to the nature of the venue every seat has a fantastic view. In the main theatre there are six rows of fixed stalls seating with an additional row of banquette seats in front of the fixed seating. There are also two galleries each with two rows of seating and even from the second row of the second gallery you have a great view of everything going on downstairs. I wouldn't recommend the second gallery for anyone who struggles with heights or stairs though.
Adult tickets for the main theatre cost between £8.50 and £29.50 depending on the time/day of the production and the area in which you choose to sit. Concessions are available for under 16s and for certain performances for senior citizens, the unemployed, students and anyone under the age of 26.
Banquette seats are the cheapest available but the number available varies from production to production. These tickets are only available direct from the box office on the day of the production and tend to sell out quite quickly. I would really recommend these seats as it almost feels as though you're on the stage watching the action unfold.
Season tickets are also available which tend to cover five or six productions over spring/summer or autumn/winter. Prices vary depending on the number of productions and the day/time or performances but are good value for money and something I am considering purchasing in the future.
Unlike many local theatres the Royal Exchange does not show the usual touring productions which tend to spend a few days or a couple of weeks in each town or city. Instead the productions tend to be specifically produced for the Royal Exchange stage and run from 4 - 8 weeks.
Over the last few years I have seen productions of various plays by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams along with productions of more contemporary plays including some brand new productions which premiered at the Royal Exchange).
Generally performances are held every evening from Monday - Saturday with matinees on both Wednesdays and Saturdays.
In addition to the standard performances there are usually special audio described/signed/after show discussion dates for each production.
Studio - The studio theatre is a separate space which seats up to 120 people. A wide variety of less well known and new productions are held in this part of the theatre. Tickets for these productions tend to be much cheaper than productions in the main theatre and I would recommend giving some of them a try, I have seen some really great performances in here.
Bar Exchange - The theatre bar is situated in the main hall of the theatre. It is usually open from 9:30am - 11pm Monday to Saturday to both theatre goers and members of the public but closes when a performance is in progress. In addition to hot and cold drinks the bar serves a range of snacks including soups, sandwiches and cakes. Whilst the bar is not cheap it is not prohibitively expensive and is certainly no more expensive than any other theatre bar I've visited.
The Round - A restaurant open for lunch and dinner the entrance to which is situated in the main hall. I have not eaten in the restaurant so cannot comment on this further.
The Craft Shop - A lovely little shop selling handmade cards, jewellery and gifts. There are some great displays of the items for sale throughout the main hall. Items are often quirky and very nice but can be very expensive.
In summary I would really recommend this theatre. If there's something on that you like the look of then go for it, if not just pop in for a drink and have a wander around.
The Royal Exhange Theatre is in central Manchester and was the building which bore the brunt of the IRA attack in 1995. The 19th Century Corn Exchange in which is stands has been restored though and, inside, a modern, floating theatre has been built. It's a bit of a shock to see it at first, with the strange stilt-like legs and opaque glass panels, but unless you're very traditional in your architectural tastes, you're sure to be impressed by the design or at least their bravery in installing it.
The main builing, as well as hosting the theatre, hosts several other theatre related attractions.There is the 'studio', which shows smaller and more autre productions. It has a small cafe-bar, open throughout the day for coffee/alcoholic drinks, and a brasserrie, which does quite reasonable pre-theatre meals at about £15 for 2 courses/£17 for 3. There are also two gift shops; one stocking theatre related books and memorabillia, the other with artwork, jewellery, textiles and ceramics by local artists. The second gift shop is definitely worth a look as the work is always impressive.
Prices in the Exchange vary. As an under 25 year old, I can see any of the productions on a Monday for only £3.50, and you get the best seats available at that time - sometimes second row £28 seats! You can also queue up at 10am each morning to get the sofa-like front row 'banquette' seats for only £7; they're reasonably popular, but unless it's the first week of a big production, there shouldn't be a huge queue for them. However, if you're not under 25 or able to queue for the banquettes, it can be a bit expensive at between about £12 and £28 a ticket.
The seats vary in the theatre, with the seats on the stage level being my favourite, even though in rows EFG you are on 'high' chairs where you have to hoist yourself up a little (there are built in footrests). The front of the first tier is just as good, but I find the second tier a little high; you're not looking at the tops of the actors heads, but not far off and if you don't like heights, it is a little unsettling.
Now the best bit, the productions. As I write in September 2005, the upcoming productions include Romeo and Juliet, Harvey and All the Ordinary Angels - so a mix of classics, 20th Century and Contemporary. The cast are, at the very least, highly competent and more often impressive - Maxine Peake in Rutherford and Son earlier this year was wonderful. The set and costume design at the Exchange are equally impressive - I love arriving at the theatre and seeing the set, and being even more impressed as the play begins and it is utilised. Great Expectations earlier this year had great gates floating down from above and gravestones rising up; the sets always contribute heavily to the productions.
The Royal Exchange, located in St Ann’s Square, Manchester, is the home to the Royal Exchange Theatre Company which was formed in 1968 by a group of successful theatre practitioners who were determined to give Manchester a theatre producing work of national standards. In 1976, the Company managed to secure a 25 year lease on the Great Hall in Manchester's Victorian Cotton Exchange, whereon Amber Hisott’s striking decorate glass design was added to the ceiling panels and deep blue stained glass was fitted to the halls’ already magnificent domes which showers stunning shafts of blue light thought the Great Hal and turned the Victorian Cotton Exchange into the Royal Exchange Company’s award-winning glass and steel theatre-in-the-round. The centre of the Exchange hall is build as a "module", with 360 degree seating, incorporating the latest heating, air conditioning and state-of-the-art sound and lighting – being one of the most modern theatres in the North West. The cost of the building conversion was £1.2 million, which was raised by Manchester‘s public and private sectors. Since the Theatre’s opening it has been extremely successful and the Company has created productions of high standard and quality with has lead to its reputation for presenting work of national importance, which was its original objective. 2001 is the Royal Exchange Company’s twenty-fifth anniversary and in celebration, this year they have hosted some well known actors, associated with the Royal Exchange Theatre: Tom Courtenay in “Uncle Vanya”, Amanda Donohoe, Patricia Routledge in “Time and the Conways” and Pete Postlethwaite in “The Homecoming”. The Royal Exchange has several eating facilities – I can recommend the Café Exchange where you can indulge in anything from a quick snack to fresh pasta dishes, soups, or just a cappuccino. The café is o
pen Monday to Friday from 12pm to 4pm and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays. There is also a Brassiere where meals are cooked to order from its extensive menu – open Monday to Saturday from 5.30pm until the performance. The Exchange also houses a Craft Shop, which is open Monday to Saturday, 9.30am until the start of the performance and is situated next to Bar Exchange. This Crafts Council selected shop sells collectable ceramics, glass, wood and metal; it also has an extensive range of contemporary jewellery. Not only is the Royal Exchange Theatre an excellent example of old and modern architecture, it is also a great theatre which provides an opportunity to enjoy an excellent evening of entertainment by some famous and talented actors.