We’re Back and We Can’t Wait To See You

On the 23 June we reopen our doors after more than a year of being closed, and we are so excited. Roy Alexander Weise and Bryony Shanahan have curated their first programme as Joint Artistic Directors.

Bursting with life, these plays and events celebrate the remarkable in human beings and unapologetically rip apart ideas of love, self-discovery, protest, faith and resilience - all of which have been under intense focus for us all this past year. Bold and radical playwriting meet a thrilling cross section of the next generation of directors and makers; bringing sharp wit and inventive thinking to a collection of intimate and epic plays, installations and events that wrestle with who we are now both as individuals and as communities.

This new programme invites the people of Greater Manchester and beyond back into the Theatre, to take up space, be present, honest, joyful and build the future together.

Joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan opens the programme with BLOODY ELLE – A GIG MUSICALThis World Premiere, written and performed by Lauryn Redding is an uplifting, one-woman show about falling in love for the very first time. This heart-warming and belly-achingly funny story is stuffed full of those stomach-flipping-time-stopping moments; a touch, a glance, a kiss, that everyone will recognise. It is set to an original score, which Redding single-handedly builds into loops and layers of sound that make you feel like there’s a ten-piece band on stage, transporting the audience to a sweaty, packed-out gig in the back of a pub or a 10,000 seat arena!

This summer the Elders and Young Company come together to create and perform WIT & WISDOM a new intergenerational production exploring all things funny directed by Andy Barry. It promises to be an anarchic night in the Theatre - the perfect mismatch of chaos and calm, all with the very serious ambition of making (non)sense of the role laughter plays in our lives.

Curated by Julie Hesmondhalgh and Ian Kershaw FLIGHT is a community-wide installation facilitating the remembrance of the lives, hopes and dreams lost to Covid-19. This beautifully meditative, interactive piece invites people, either in person or remotely, to write a name, a memory, a reflection, a dream onto a piece of paper before transforming it into an origami bird. Collectively we will create a physical tapestry of lives, a growing installation of memory and hope, unleashed like thousands of birds in the sky, taking flight in the Exchange’s Great Hall.

The Theatre’s Local Exchange programme continued throughout lockdown, engaging Ambassador groups across Leigh, Cheetham Hill, Tameside and Beswick. THE DEN IN LEIGH festival takes place this summer during the first two weeks of August and is programmed in collaboration with the Leigh Ambassadors. Local audiences will be able to enjoy a packed programme including dynamic performances from the Exchange, innovative productions from UK touring companies and inspiring work, such as the winning plays from LocalTALE, by local artists. Readings, workshops, family events and much more will fill the Den, creating a unique festival experience. THE DEN is the Exchange’s pop-up theatre space, made possible by The Oglesby Charitable Trust.

The Royal Exchange’s brand-new Young Company show, THE SURVIVORS’ GUIDE TO LIVING, is co-created by writer Zodwa Nyoni and the Royal Exchange Young Company Performers. Directed by 2017 Young Company alumni Anna Berentzen, it explores what it means to radically find happiness, yourself and imagination when the world feels like it doesn't make sense.

Achingly funny and heart-breaking, GLEE & ME, written by Stuart Slade, is a Bruntwood Judges-Prize Winning comedy. 16-year-old Lola is sharp, witty and has her whole life ahead of her - until she’s diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. What’s always made Lola unique is her brilliant mind – a mind that’s rapidly turning into useless mush - but before she dies, Lola’s promised herself two things: 1. She’s going to get All The Sex and 2. She’ll definitively discover the Meaning of Life. GLEE & ME is a pitch-black, unexpectedly optimistic portrayal of love, friendship and the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit directed by Nimmo Ismail.

Olivier Award-Winning play THE MOUNTAINTOP received a digital reading at the Exchange during lockdown as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Now Joint Artistic Director Roy Alexander Weise makes his Royal Exchange debut with a brand-new production of Katori Hall’s awesome play. Set during the height of America’s Civil Rights Movement, Hall imagines the eve of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Camae, a sexy, sassy, foul-mouthed maid, brings him a cup of coffee and the night takes an unexpected turn. This is a laugh-out-loud, visceral and powerful drama.

Together with Liverpool’s Everyman and Eclipse Theatre, 18 pieces of new writing from ethnically diverse writers will be commissioned and performed at venues across the North of England. Curated by Rachel De-Lahay, MY WHITE BEST FRIEND – NORTH is a powerful event where letters are opened and read live for the first time on stage by actors, laying bare the things their writers, up until now, have not dared to say about race, class, sexuality, identity. In the Exchange’s version of this daring show letters from Lemn Sissay, Cheryl Martin, Yusra Warsama, Nikhil Parmar, mandla rae and Samuel Rossiter are featured. MY WHITE BEST FRIEND – NORTH is a new iteration of My White Best Friend (and other letters left unsaid), originally performed at The Bunker and the Royal Court - each event will feature letters from different writers.

Performed in November 2021, during the 2021 United National Climate Change Conference, WHEN THIS IS OVER is a collective expression of young voices curated by Company Three and brings together Youth Theatres from across the UK. In the Royal Exchange’s version, directed by Nickie Miles-Wildin they wrestle with the things that have happened to them already, and the things that might happen for them in the future. Through these modest predictions for lives not yet lived we see ourselves for who we are right now - and how we want the world to change.

Doing exactly what is says on the tin DISRVPT is a brand-new programme of special events curated by Artistic Directors Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise that seek to disrupt the equilibrium of the Exchange’s Great Hall. Working with artists from a wide variety of art-forms, the first DISRVPT event is sponsored by WarnerMedia and will take place this autumn; curated by Manchester based writer, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson. More to follow on 25 May!

Christmas at the Exchange brings a fairy-tale of sorts…THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART – a devilish offering from award-winning writer David Greig. This wild musical play sees Scottish folk songs collide with decadent karaoke. Oozing with wit, passion, seduction and sambucas, this show brings a riotous mix of rhyming couplets, live music and a glimpse of the underworld. It’s the winter solstice and lover of old things and traditional ways, Prudencia Hart, fresh from her PhD, is conference bound. In a hot stuffy hall on the borders, she shares her theories on Hell in folk literature. But, as the snow falls thick and fast the small town flings off its folk traditions, dumps Robert Burns for a bit of Kylie, and grabs the karaoke mic with both hands. The night gets increasingly raucous and it's astonishing what Prudencia will discover between the snow and the vodka shots - not least, what she finds out about herself. Directed by Debbie Hannan, who makes their Royal Exchange debut.

Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise said…
"It’s been a long road getting to this moment but we’re so proud to finally announce our first programme as Artistic Directors. So much has changed – for us, the world and our theatre. But what hasn’t changed is our belief in the essential need for people to gather together in a communal experience and to grapple with what it means to be human and to co-exist.

Since we closed the theatre, we’ve asked ourselves what will be needed or wanted by audiences and communities. The truth is, there is no singular answer. Whether its humour, or catharsis, provocation or activism, we knew it had to be rooted in our collective yearning for truth, freedom, authenticity and connection. These epic stories - even in their intimacy - ask some huge questions; and like any good story, can give us the tools again to engage with our real world and all of the different kinds of people we might find in it.

It has never felt more potent a time to say that we do not just exist to make excellent art. We exist to connect people through excellent theatre and opportunities to participate. Our work with non-professionals also comes to the fore offering all the opportunities to see, enjoy and celebrate all of the brilliant work that the Royal Exchange does as a civic, communal space and a world-class theatre.

There were moments in the past 12 months when we wondered if the Royal Exchange could survive this. The outpouring of love and support was fuel for us in some of our darkest moments; we are so thankful from the bottom of our hearts. The Royal Exchange Theatre is absolutely and categorically here to stay for future generations of Greater Manchester to enjoy. This year will see us celebrate our 45th Birthday and we are pumped for another 45 years of coming together in one of the most unique venues in the country. I mean, come on, where else is it impossible to watch a play without watching someone else watch the play, and whilst basically sitting in a spaceship?! An arena in the round; like an epic embrace welcoming you back home again or the first embrace to let you know that this is, and forever will be, a place you can belong. We absolutely cannot wait to see you."



Written and performed by Lauryn Redding
Directed by Bryony Shanahan
23 June – 17 July

A Royal Exchange Theatre production created with Julie Hesmondhalgh and Ian Kershaw
FLIGHT will take place from June across a 12 month period in the Great Hall and online.

An Elders and Young Company production
Directed by Andy Barry
23 & 24 July

Written by Zodwa Nyoni
Directed by Anna Berentzen
26 – 28 August

A Festival curated and programmed with the Leigh Ambassadors
4 – 14 August

Written by Stuart Slade
Directed by Nimmo Ismail
11 September – 30 October

Written by Katori Hall
Directed by Roy Alexander Weise
25 September – 29 October

Devised by Royal Exchange Young Company Graduates in association with Company Three
Directed by Nickie Miles-Wildin
Performed by arrangement with Nick Hern Books
November 2021

Curated by Rachel De-Lahay
Written by Cheryl Martin, Yusra Warsama, Nikhil Parmar, mandla rae and Samuel Rossiter
23 & 30 October

Written by David Greig
Directed by Debbie Hannan
4 December – 15 January 2022

Tickets for BLOODY ELLE go on sale to the public on 27 May
E-tickets at royalexchange.co.uk/whatson

Tickets for the remaining programme will go on sale soon. Please check back here for more details.