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The Library Theatre to move into the Theatre Royal

Jonathan Schofield and how the Library Theatre is to become royal

Written by . Published on October 21st 2009.

The Library Theatre to move into the Theatre Royal

The Library Theatre is moving out of the Central Library.

Refurbishment work on the Town Hall Complex including Central Library will start next summer and the whole project will last up to five years.

The availability for lease of the Theatre Royal - currently Coliseum nightclub – and it’s excellent location means that it has been identified as 'the best solution'. The plans, if approved, would not only offer the Library Theatre Company a more contemporary and flexible space but would also restore the theatre to its original purpose.

The new location – eventually - for the Library Theatre, will be in Manchester’s oldest theatre building dating from 1845, the Theatre Royal. In the meantime, starting at the Lowry on Salford Quays, the Library Theatre will perform at venues around the city, offering continuous theatre provision while the changes take place.

The reasons for the move out of Central Library even after the completion of the refurbishment are laid down in a Council report.

To quote: ‘Having outgrown its current home at Central Library, which a recent report to Executive described as 'wholly inadequate…for a modern theatre fit for a leading European regional city', the Library Theatre Company has been searching for a new, more suitable venue for a number of years. The basement space at Central Library is now too small and restrictive for the Library Theatre Company to operate in and they are now looking to expand and develop their range of performances and valuable community work.’

The availability for lease of the Theatre Royal - currently Coliseum nightclub – and it’s excellent location means that it has been identified as 'the best solution'. The plans will be subject to agreement with the current owners of the building and if approved, would not only offer the Library Theatre Company a more contemporary and flexible space but would also restore the theatre to its original purpose.

Confidential pal, Councillor Mike Amesbury, Manchester City Council’s Culture and Leisure Czar said: “This proposed relocation will have a significant, positive effect on the cultural life of the city. The Theatre Royal – a piece of Manchester’s history – would offer a great opportunity for the Library Theatre Company to develop and expand both its range of performances and its valuable community and education work, while also opening up this Grade II listed building and returning the oldest theatre in Manchester to its former glory. We’re excited by the proposals.”

The Theatre Royal would provide more seating than the Library Theatre Company’s current 312-capacity venue and would offer enhanced facilities, attracting more audiences which, in theory, would contribute to the city centre economy. The new venue would also enable the further development of the Library Theatre’s successful educational programme and its participation with the local community. If made big enough it would no doubt improve the range of spaces in which Manchester International Festival could flourish.

Chris Honer, the theatre’s Artistic Director has said: “The Central Library has been a wonderful venue for us for over half a century but the prospect of a move to the Theatre Royal offers the Library Theatre Company a marvellous opportunity for the future. What a great story it would be to be able to turn the Theatre Royal back into a theatre.”

Some commentators think the move might also signal the end of City funding for the Library Theatre and a move to Arts Council funding as with The Royal Exchange. This would allow the Library Theatre, which is well-known for providing a robust programme of drama despite its municipal funding limitations, to compete on a more equal footing.

Here's a brief backstory about the Theatre Royal building and the Libary Theatre.

The immediate ancestor of the present Theatre Royal began life in 1807 on Fountain Street - the still existing Concert Lane marks this. Then on the 7 May 1844 the theatre burnt down. Architects Chester and Irwin were then employed by theatre impresario John Knowles to design the grand Peter Street building we see today, with its two giant Corinthian columns. The building cost £23,000 to build and included an enormous water tank on the top floor in case of fire.

Its success turned the Oxford Road, Peter Street, Quay Street axis into the largest theatreland in the North and one of the largest in Europe. Stars such as Henry Irving and Lily Langtree played in the Theatre Royal. In 1897 Puccini’s La Boheme was performed for the first time in the country there, attended by the composer himself. With the rise of cinema live performances ceased in 1921. The building has subsequently been a cinema, bingo hall and club. Thus, perhaps oddly, the building was 77 years a theatre and 89 years something else.

The Library Theatre opened in 1947. Despite funding challenges it’s been a beacon for civic theatres across the country. The best reason, in a quaint way, for its existence was laid-down in the sixties by David Colley, the City Librarian, when live professional drama of any kind was under threat: “Should we then let theatre die in the provinces? Should we confine our local entertainments to the brisk trade in vulgarity of twice nightly revues, farces and nude shows to fill for tired businessmen and women the gaps which inevitably occur on radio and TV. I think not. Manchester men and women will ensure that this one theatre will eventually blossom into the civic theatre which a few people for a long time have dreamed of.”

One last curiosity, the Shakespeare statue above the door is deemed to be the ugliest in the country. When placed here a wit of the town wrote a poem in which Ben Johnson, Shakespeare’s contemporary, made a ghostly visit to Manchester. Here’s a little of that poem.

‘And (he) saw above the playhouse door,
A face like one he’d seen before;
Twas Shakespeare’s, his old crony dear.
‘Pray who are you, perched there so high?’
The statue answered with a sigh,
‘They say I’m Shakespeare, what think you?’
‘Why if you are, your case looks blue,
You’ve got a club foot, now I see,
And a white-swelling at your knee,
And dropsied legs, for folks to quiz’.

It's perhaps a good job that the Library Theatre doesn't concentrate too much on Shakespeare productions.

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JoanOctober 21st 2009.

While I’m pleased about the move I don’t see how a recent report to Executive could come up with a description of the Library Theatre facilities as 'wholly inadequate … for a modern theatre fit for a leading European regional city'. If facilities were ‘wholly inadequate’ how did The Library Theatre manage to come up with such brilliant productions? Did the writer of this report ever see their stunning productions such as ‘Waiting for Godot’? It’ll be amazing to see what they achieve with adequate facilities. Really looking forward to it.

AnonymousOctober 21st 2009.

It is a pity that the Library Theatre and Royal Exchange are regarded as being "in competition". Co-operation could reduce mailing list and other costs, have complementary productions and allow joint advertising to theatre-goers.

AdamOctober 21st 2009.

Anonymous - The Library and Royal Exchange are in no way 'in competition'; all the Theatres across Manchester collaborate and complement each other wherever possible - there are projects such as the Manchester Theatre Guide and many more in the pipeline. The theatres regularly meet and discuss the issues that affect them all, and are committed to working together to effectively market their offer and to develop audiences. All the arts venues across Manchester work fantastically well together and although many venues have very dedicated supporters and attenders there is very little sense that these people will 'avoid' other theatres or view them as "competition".

LeeOctober 21st 2009.

FANTASTIC! what a wonderful idea to be able to use the building for its original purpose is great! and to hopefully restore the building from its rather shabby look of recent years. Would be great if the opening night play would be the original play performed there on its first night in 1845

Phil JonesOctober 21st 2009.

they could have had this 20 years ago if they had had the foresight!

A PedantOctober 21st 2009.

"it’s excellent location" should read "its excellent location"it's = it is

KelvinOctober 21st 2009.

I'll be glad to see the back of the Coliseum nightclub. Walking back home past this place was a nightmare at times, with drunken yobs getting into fights. This will be a really good space for theatre. Let's hope that they do a good job, spending a decent amount of cash on this.

AnonymousOctober 21st 2009.

Why has no one answered the important question of where the AU Social is moving to!?

AnonymousOctober 21st 2009.

To be fair that Shakespeare statue was very forward thinking in it's style, since a lot of Royales patrons did but quite resemble it in the late 90's.

AnonymousOctober 21st 2009.

Good news.... but wasn't there also some unlikely looking skyscraper proposal for the back end of the building (and cantilevering over it) that was meant to provide the finance for the theatre revamp? What happened to that?

Realist of M20October 21st 2009.

Please let us pour more money into ambitious cultural projects. I would gladly have my Council Tax doubled for the privelege of supporting this venture.

JackOctober 21st 2009.

Use a theatre as a theatre. Brilliant idea! Hope it happens.

RobOctober 21st 2009.

Wow wow wow! Fantastic news - lets hope it all comes off.

DescartesOctober 21st 2009.

Whilst happy about the move, I just don't believe the facilities at Royales can be better than where they are already. Obviously a lot of investment is going into it, but converting an old theatre cum superclub back to a theatre is not going to be as easy as beefing up their current location. Good luck to them though, hope Manchester can support a third proper theatre during a recession.

Robin BrunskillOctober 21st 2009.

This is a great move, but I wonder if it is wise to let the original Library Theatre go to waste? Manchester needs a Children's Theatre, similar to the Unicorn in London. Maybe linked with Literacy programmes in schools, letting children know the fun and power and value of stories/words. Why not? Sure it costs, but think of the cost (personal and public) of bad literacy too.

stejaskiOctober 21st 2009.

This is great news. Although I have seen some fantastic productions in the Library, and will miss the intimacy of the space, its so good to see the Peter Street building returned to its orignal purpose, especially as it gives further definition to Manchester's Theatreland.

DescartesOctober 21st 2009.

I think you're being a bit unfair on that statue of Shakespeare. I had a look when I walked passed this morning and it's not so bad, t'aint like he was Don Quixote, wait, Don Juan.

Cllr Mike AmesburyOctober 21st 2009.

A fascinating article which validates our decision to press ahead with this at the Executive today

Peter RivendellOctober 21st 2009.

I must admit I had my doubts when I first heard about this idea, wondering how this new home would change the nature of the Library Theatre. But it's certainly fantastic news for Manchester's theatreland.

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