Writers & the Royal Exchange Theatre
During the last ten years at the Royal Exchange, we have produced over 50 new plays across both our spaces and worked with a huge range of writers at different stages in their careers. From classrooms to battlefields and from Essex to Stockport, our work has engaged with the way we live in this country and beyond.
Our most produced playwrights are Simon Stephens and the Canadian writer Brad Fraser. Brad’s most recent plays include TRUE LOVE LIES (2009), the portrait of a nuclear family going into meltdown and 5@50 (2011), which tackles the uncertainty of a group of female friends as they reach their half century.
In recent years, Simon has emerged as one of the leading writers of his generation. He first came to the Exchange as Pearson Playwright, a residency on which he wrote his 2002 play PORT. Brought up in Stockport, Stephens described the play as “the first Stone Roses LP. It is Morrissey singing ‘Moon river’. Or playing pool to ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’. Or the bomb in the Arndale.” PORT is an intimate epic about a young girl who struggles to thrive in a neglectful family.
Simon went on to write ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD (2005) for the theatre, a play which traces a family struggling to recover from the loss of a child. A co-production with the National Theatre, ON THE SHORE won an Olivier Award for Best New Play. Most recently PUNK ROCK (2009) proved a huge hit in Manchester, London and on its national tour. In the library of a fee paying sixth form, seven students prepare for the end of school, unsure if they’ll be released into the world or swallowed up by it.
Alongside relationships with established writers, over the last ten years we’ve worked with a number of writers developing their work at an early stage of their career. Originally from Liverpool, Chloe Moss came to Manchester to study and her student days inspired many of the locations for her beautiful play about two teenage best friends, CHRISTMAS IS MILES AWAY (2005), which transferred to the Bush Theatre.
Chloe’s play was produced as part of a ‘Little Manchester Season’ at the Exchange, alongside Nick Leather’s ALL THE ORDINARY ANGELS in our main house. Like Simon, Nick was a Pearson Playwright in residence at the theatre and wrote each scene of his play in a different place in the building, charting the lives of a Manchester family of ice cream makers.
Nick had been one of the prize winners in the 2001 Write competition and festival for writers in the North West. After a second festival in 2003, Write was transformed into the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, run for the first time in 2005. A national competition, the prize has provided a career-changing opportunity to a number of emerging writers.
Ben Musgrave, Duncan Macmillan and Phil Porter all had productions of their prize winning plays at the Exchange as a result of the 2005 competition. Ben Musgrave became the youngest writer to have a main house show at the theatre, when first prize winner PRETEND YOU HAVE BIG BUILDINGS was produced in 2007. This tender and funny play about two teenagers growing up in the shadow of Canary Wharf in Romford was performed alongside MONSTER by Duncan Macmillan in The Studio. An urgent study of a white working class boy who receives extra tuition from a young black teacher, the play was born of Duncan’s experience teaching in a secondary school. Third of the trio was THE CRACKS IN MY SKIN (2008) by Phil Porter, a Studio production with a riveting and feral central performance from Matti Houghton as Janie, a troubled teenager hoping to build a family in someone else’s front garden.
The second Bruntwood Prize in 2008 brought a new generation of writers into our spaces, with Fiona Peek’s SALT (2010) plunging The Studio into the plush surroundings of a comfy Hampstead kitchen and the friendship between two couples. Bruntwood work dominated the theatre in 2011, when Vivienne Franzmann’s powerful and uncompromising MOGADISHU erupted in the main house alongside Andrew Sheridan’s brutal and beautiful WINTERLONG in The Studio. Both plays running simultaneously in Manchester and in London at the Lyric Hammersmith and Soho Theatre.
Writers & The Studio
Since its launch in 1998, The Studio has provided a home for some of our most extraordinary new plays alongside those produced in the main house. As well as playing host to the Write festival and a number of Bruntwood winners, 2006 saw the world premiere of THE FLAGS by Bridget O’Connor, who sent us the play unsolicited in the post. A riotously funny comedy about two lifeguards on the second worst beach in Ireland, the play was a sell out in The Studio and was revived in the main house the following year.
Matthew Dunster has worked with as an actor and director, but in 2008 The Studio became the home for his searingly honest memoir about life growing up in Oldham, YOU CAN SEE THE HILLS. An astonishing monologue delivered by Will Ash, Matthew’s play is a testosterone fuelled charge through adolescence. After The Studio had played host to a retrospective of his work, Robert Holman’s latest play JONAH AND OTTO was premiered there in 2008. A haunting piece of writing, the play is a breathtaking and detailed study of a chance meeting between a cleric and a young father, played by Ian McDiarmid and Andrew Sheridan.
Work for Younger Audiences
The Royal Exchange Theatre has a rich tradition of commissioning and producing work for younger audiences. Every June, The Studio is devoted to celebrating theatre that we’ve specially made and imagined for a new generation of theatre goers. Click here
for highlights from our commissions and co-productions of recent years.To read a list of all our premieres of new plays since 1976, click here.
Pictures: Port, Love & Money, Punk Rock cast, Mogadishu, Pub, Sex, Chips & Rock n' Roll, All the Ordinary Angels, On the Shore of the Wide World.