Created by Keisha Thompson & designed by Alison Erika Forde

  • 21 October 2021 - 21 October 2022
  • The Great Hall


This autumn the Royal Exchange Theatre reframes the Great Hall, interrupting the space with the first DISRVPT event HOLDING SPACE, created by Manchester artist Keisha Thompson and designed by Alison Erika Forde. A poem, a performance and an installation invites audiences to move beyond the obvious grandeur of the hall, interrogate the history of the bricks and mortar, widen the lens and take time to look at the building in a different way.

This installation can be found in the Great Hall of the Royal Exchange Theatre for 12 months from 21 October 2021 to 21 October 2022. You can listen to the recording of the poem on the 'Audio' tab on the right side of this page and see how it fits into some of the installation's artwork below. For an in-depth exploration of what DISRVPT is and how it came to be, please read this fascinating blog from Joint Artistic Directors Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise...


 Sponsored by WarnerMedia


  • Creative Team
  • Alison Erika Forde

    Alison Erika Forde (born 1985, Wigan, Greater Manchester) is a visual artist/maker/painter exploring her mixed heritage, motherhood, class, the male gaze and northern-ness through art and zines.

    She creates her distinctive imagery on an eclectic mix of objects. By re-using old, unwanted items including mass-produced second-hand prints, bric-a-brac and household wood, she injects new purpose into the discarded remnants. Drawing on imagery sourced from high art to the subcultural, Alison paints a window through to an alternate universe simultaneously familiar and unnerving, reaching for hope through darkness with disarming playfulness.

    Alison has been practising art in and around Greater Manchester since graduating from MMU in 2008, exhibiting regularly in the UK and overseas, including exhibitions at Manchester Art Gallery, York St Mary's & Glasgow Women's Library.

    Alison is a founding member of art collectives Yiiikes! and Gang Of Five, as well as making limited edition zines.

    Alison on Holding Space...

    "I’ve used the motifs of eyes, hands, rope, plaits and braids as well as cotton weave.  These are to represent the cotton trading that took place in the royal exchange.  Weaving a new narrative into the space, attaching it and intertwining it with the ropes.  The ropes are dual function as hair and braids pulling you eyes up to the ceiling, as in Keisha’s poem.  I have selected the colour of yellow ochre as a natural gold to represent wealth.  The electric blue is a continuation of Keisha’s blue hues within her music videos, a very vibrant futuristic colour tinged with melancholy.  The main two colours are black and white to allow the banner artwork to stand out amongst all of the colours already within The Royal Exchange space, whilst harbouring the usual symbolism."

    Keisha Thompson

    Keisha Thompson is a Manchester based writer, performance artist and producer.

    She is the Senior Learning Programme Manager for The World Reimagined of Children, Chair of radical arts funding body, Future’s Venture Foundation, a MOBO x London Theatre Consortium Fellow and a member of Greater Manchester Cultural and Heritage Group, and recipient of The Arts Foundation Theatre Makers Award 2021.

    In 2020, she finished touring award-winning solo show, Man on the Moon. Her debut book, Lunar, features her poetry and the show script. Whilst Moonwhile is a poetic mini album featuring music from the show.

    She has supported artists such as Kae Tempest, Hollie McNish, The Last Poets, Saul Williams, Amiri Baraka and has performed in Brave New Voices festivals 2008 & 2009. Her work has been presented at high profile venues and platforms such as Tate Modern, Blue Dot Festival and the British Council Showcase in Edinburgh.

    Keisha on Holding Space...

    "I am wildly excited by any opportunity to create space for conversation. For this poem, I was inspired by the architecture of the great hall. For those who do not know, the main theatre space in the Royal Exchange is suspended.

    Suspension has meanings from a variety of contexts ranging from theatre to chemistry, so I chose to play with those. However, suspension is quite a technical term, so I chose to use its more conversational equivalent "hold up" as well. Again I looked for various interpretations. Many of which nod to the idea of having difficult conversations, supporting others, supporting yourself, etc. So I weaved all that together. Finally, I wrote in columns as a nod to the architecture of the hall. 

    I hope this poem will allow readers to reflect on the history of the building in a way that feels less factual and more emotional. We can appreciate the journey that the building has gone on and how many types of people have been through the space by acknowledging the multiplicity of truth. No one person can hold the full story so we have to "hold up" our ends from our perspectives and be willing to piece them together with other people's to get a better sense of our joint heritage."

Join the Discussion