Pictures from 22 empty theatres across the UK including the Royal Exchange Theatre


Photographer Helen Murray releases Our Empty Theatres, a photography story featuring 22 empty theatres and quotes from over 100 members of the UK’s theatre community responding to Mur-ray’s photos which were all taken during lockdown.

Murray’s photography series took her to theatres in Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester. As part of the project Murray contacted those working in theatre from wig makers to designers, to writ-ers to front of house staff asking them for their response to our empty theatres.

Commenting on the series photographer Helen Murray says:

'Over the course of lockdown I set myself a challenge to create a project that responded to it but that also told a photographic story of its own. I kept coming back to our empty theatres – these spaces that were now without life, without people and without stories. I visited and captured a total of 22 theatre spaces in London, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. Shooting this series has been sobering. Going back to into these spaces that I know so well and being met with total silence. No background noise, no chitter chatter, no infectious laughs bellowing out of a rehearsal room, just complete silence. The stark opposite of what they should be. In the forefront of my mind throughout shooting was what are these buildings are without all the glorious, wonderful, different kinds of people that inhabit them, from the army of freelancers to the permanent staff, to the ushers, box office, bookshop, stage door, café & bar staff, volunteers, community & audience members? I wanted to contact these people to ask them ‘what do our empty theatres mean to you?’

Here’s what people from the Royal Exchange had to say:

Gloria Akpoke – Young Company Member
To me empty theatres are bodies without a heart beat. Empty theatres are places where magic has be taken from our mundane world. To me it means a place that once shared laughter, sadness, love and every emotion through story telling has now been silenced. An empty Theatre is like creating a microphone and not letting anyone use it to sing. An empty theatre means we starve ourselves of stories that bring us comfort, magic, wisdom and unity. An empty theatre is everything it was never created to be. And that’s what an empty theatre means to me.

Gurjeet Singh – Actor
To me, our empty theatres means there’s a lack of opportunity to be represented,
For our audiences to see the beautiful make up of our world through stories,
For kids, like my younger brother, to see and feel there is possibility for them too....

Kate O’Donnell – Actor and Artistic Director of Trans Creative
Empty theatres mean silence. As a trans theatre maker, activist and artistic director of trans creative our aim is to create space to tell our stories to raise visibility. If you can’t see yourself, you can’t be yourself. End the silence. End empty theatres.

Aaron Fletcher – Local Exchange Ambassador and owner of Buzzin Sounds
Empty theatres are a hole in the heart of society. Each seat is an opportunity to inspire, and each empty seat represents a person who misses out on the opportunity to be inspired, and who knows what that person could be inspired to create?

Jackie Corr - Welcome Desk Volunteer
Empty building once alive with theatre, music, laughter, tears and applause and the familiar smells now all disappeared. Now the building has it's own mysterious sounds of creaks, groans and bangs with smells of staleness and old wood. In time the doors will open again and the building will hand it's self back to the Royal Exchange to begin the next chapter in it's future.

Pauline Walsh – Welcome Desk Volunteer
I feel like someone has snatched away part of my heart

Maggie Bell – Elders Company Member
The theatre’s history, resilience and flexibility make it well placed to survive. And, given what it brings to the cultural and communal life of the city, survive it surely must. I feel unable to contemplate the gaping hole that would be left if its performances and programmes were no more.

Nicola Miles-Wildin – Director / Associate Director Graeae
Empty theatres mean no stories. No shared laughter, tears or surprises. But they give us time to think. To regroup. To reset and reimagine what our theatres are and who they are for. Because I’d love to share RET and what it stands for with many more people. They deserve to be part of its excitement.

Stella Lowe – Volunteer
The loss of my social, artistic, cultural focus and source of pleasure and inspiration.

Anna Jordan – Writer
I've always felt a little scared of empty theatres. In the silence they can feel haunted, the echo of all the words spoken there before; on stage and off. But they're hopeful places too - because of all the words that will be spoken in the future. A place of nostalgia and a place of anticipation. I can't wait till they are full again.

Marylin Edwards – Volunteer
Lovely atmosphere, nice place to be, lovely people to work with and
for. I really do miss being involved and cannot wait to be back soon. X

Visit Helen’s website for the full series of images helenmurrayphotos.com/galleries/ouremptytheatres