The Royal Exchange’s spring/summer 2017 season marks the second half of the theatre’s anniversary and sees the company taking inspiration from its own beginnings.  In 1976, during a time of huge social and political upheaval, from the advent of Punk and the uncompromising activism of art, a radical group of theatre makers reclaimed Manchester’s vast, empty cotton trading hall and built a theatre like no other in the UK. Inspired by the origins of Greek theatre they created a uniquely democratic performance space, an intimate theatre-in-the-round where audiences and actors enter and exit through the same doors. Inside they reinvented classics and imagined bold new dramas that would ‘bring light into darker times’.

The programme is spread across the Royal Exchange Theatre, the Studio and the building itself and includes the likes of director Jo Davies making her Royal Exchange debut with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the award-winning director Liz Stevenson returning with the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting winning How My Light Is Spent and collaborations with emerging artists from across Manchester in CO:Lab Festival.

So what’s on?

Whilst there is so much more happening at the Royal Exchange, here are just a few of the highlights …

The Suppliant Women By Aeschylus in a new version by David Greig
Directed by Ramin Gray; Composer John Browne;
10 March – 1 April, The Royal Exchange Theatre
The season opens with an extraordinary theatrical event The Suppliant Women. Written by Aeschylus 2,500 years ago, it is one of the world’s oldest plays, yet its contemporary resonance is astounding in this new adaptation by multi award-wining writer David Greig and director Ramin Gray. At the heart of the play sits a chorus of fifty young women, recruited from across greater Manchester, they argue for their lives and speak to us through the ages with startling resonance for our time. The production opens at the Royal Exchange on the 10 March.
Fifty women leave everything behind to board a boat in North Africa and flee across the Mediterranean. They are escaping forced marriage in their homeland, hoping for protection and assistance, seeking asylum in Greece.

Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jo Davies
13 April – 20 May, The Royal Exchange Theatre
A comedy about who we are and who we choose to be makes Twelfth Night a glorious, wild and unruly exploration of identity, relationships and loneliness. Directed by Jo Davies, who makes her Royal Exchange Theatre debut, this is a comedy with remarkable wit and energy but also a darker more elusive side which questions gender politics and ideas of belonging. The play runs from 13 April – 20 May.
Washed up on the shores of Illyria after a ship-wreck, Viola hides her true identity by disguising herself as a man. Finding a job – and love – at the court of Duke Orsino, Viola becomes muddled in mistaken identities when her disguise begins to cause more problems than it solves.
Jo Davies has worked as a director at the ENO, the Royal Opera House, the Royal National Theatre, the Barbican, in London’s West End and on Broadway. Jo has also mounted operas, plays and musicals worldwide, most recently in the US, France, and Italy with credits including Don Carlo (Grange Park Opera), Kiss Me, Kate (Opera North), The Marriage of Figaro (Opera North) and Carousel (Barbican).

How My Light Is Spent By Alan Harris
Directed by Liz Stevenson
24 April – 13 May, Royal Exchange Studio
The World Premiere of Alan Harris’ How My Light Is Spent is presented in the Studio this spring. Winner of the Judges Award in the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting this beautifully uplifting play, set in a small town in Wales, explores the curious relationship between Jimmy and Kitty and the joy of finding someone who might just really ‘see’ you. Directed by the award-winning Liz Stevenson the production is a collaboration with Theatre by the Lake and Sherman Theatre.
Every Wednesday evening, Jimmy calls Kitty. For precisely nine minutes. At £1.20 a minute. Jimmy is 34, lives with his mum and works at Newport’s only drive-through doughnut restaurant. Kitty is an adult chat line operator, living in the granny flat of a topiary enthusiast. Things were looking up for Jimmy when he met Kitty for the first time, but then he loses his job and starts to feel a strange tingling in his fingers. Kitty’s not a psychologist yet, but she has some theories about why Jimmy has started to disappear. With Kitty’s advice and Jimmy trying to reconcile himself to eventual invisibility, this unlikely duo succeed in turning each other’s world upside down.

Persuasion By Jane Austen – World Premiere
Adapted by Jeff James with James Yeatman
Directed by Jeff James
25 May – 24 June, Royal Exchange Theatre
Director Jeff James has worked regularly with the Young Vic, most recently on his production of La Musica, and extensively as Associate Director with international and multi award-winning director Ivo van Hove. This spring he creates a bold adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion, for the Royal Exchange, in collaboration with dramaturg James Yeatman. An emotionally powerful love story for grown-ups, James’ contemporary production of Austen’s beautifully crafted novel discards the bonnets, revealing how startlingly relevant Austen’s story remains today.
When Captain Wentworth proposed to Anne eight years ago, he had only love and ambition to offer. Talked out of accepting his proposal by her family, Anne’s never quite got over her first love. But now Wentworth is back. Rich, successful and single, the handsome Captain has been transformed into a serious catch. When circumstances bring the two face to face again, Anne Elliot is forced to confront the past. As old wounds reopen, will Wentworth’s resentment keep him away, and will Anne finally decide what she really wants?

Co-created by Scott Graham, Karl Hyde and Simon Stephens
1 – 15 July, Royal Exchange Theatre
Fatherland is a bold new theatre show created by Scott Graham from Frantic Assembly, Underworld’s Karl Hyde and playwright Simon Stephens, focusing on contemporary fatherhood in all its complexities and contradictions. Inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from the trio’s home towns in the heart of the country, Fatherland is a survey of life in England’s towns today. The show will transform the familiar spaces of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, with a cast of 13 men and a remarkable, all-embracing musical score by Karl Hyde and Matthew Herbert.
The show explores identity, nationality, masculinity –and what it means to belong in a world weighed down by the expectations of others. Tender and tough, honest and true, Fatherland is a vital and necessary show about what we were, who we are and what we’d like to become. The production runs from 1 – 15 July as part of Manchester International Festival.

Royal Exchange Theatre.  image credit University of Salford Press Office/flickr under creative commons licence.