MANCHESTER’S theatre scene is on a roll.
Manchester’s last rep theatre, The Gaiety, also called Peter Street home
Despite only opening properly last year, Ancoats’ Hope Mill Theatre has already garnered plaudits from bodies like The Club 100 and The Stage - even sending its acclaimed version of Hair to London. Z Arts was 2017 winner of the prestigious Lever Prize, joining previous victors like Contact. The Horsfall, 42nd Street’s pioneering new arts venue, sold out its debut promenade production Hidden, and 53Two is gaining rave reviews for a diverse programme spanning Comedysportz to JB Shorts.
That’s even before we get to the bigger venues, regional gems and pioneering festivals: Fringe, Flare, MIF…
Now, the city’s performing arts scene is setting the stage (pardon the pun) for yet another pioneering newcomer, as Northern Rep - Manchester’s first repertory company in over 50 years - launches a permanent venue in Great Northern Warehouse, in the space formerly occupied by Junkyard Golf Club.
Performing plays from a lively repertoire, hence the term ‘rep,’ this independent theatre company already has a roster of classics under its belt - from The Jungle Book to Peter Pan - at its MOAT summer pop-up in Chorlton Park. Northern Rep’s new (undercover) home in Peter Street’s entertainment complex, however, will ensure the company is no longer reliant on fickle British weather.
Northern Rep has hosted performances in Chorlton Park as part of its open air theatre project
Whilst the Great Northern theatre is set to open permanently in May, it will open for a limited period from 21 March to host ‘an immersive club-land reimagining’ of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Northern Rep’s website says: ‘Watch out for the fairies behind the bar, the idiots horsing around in the corner and try not to get caught up with someone else's boyfriend or girlfriend. We're not responsible for what might happen to you. With our resident DJ on the decks, Midsummer Dream is a place to dance, to drink, to get lost and to get pucked up.’
Will this set the tone for future performances? Some, perhaps, but we suspect this particular troupe doesn’t confirm to one set of rules. Even Tristan Baker, Oliver award-winning producer of productions like The Railway Children, ‘can’t wait to see what they’ve got up their sleeves’ and local actress Julie Hesmondhalgh echoed his sentiments.
Incidentally Manchester’s last rep theatre, The Gaiety, also called Peter Street home; occupying a plot of land near the corner with Mount Street. Initially opening as a comedy theatre in 1884, it re-launched as Britain’s first regional repertory theatre in 1912 and fostered the careers of prominent playwrights like Hobson’s Choice author Harold Brighouse.
Now, Northern Rep will continue its legacy - providing opportunities for emerging theatre makers to showcase their work and making a tangible imprint on Manchester’s independent theatre scene.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Thomas Moor, Northern Rep Director, said: “The opportunity to bring rep theatre back to Manchester after an absence of over 50 years is such an honour. There is no place better in the country than Manchester and we’re incredibly excited to be able to bring an independent theatre mindset to the very heart of the city centre – don’t expect a traditional theatre-going experience!
"We’ve been working with the owners of the historic Great Northern Warehouse over the past four months to find the perfect space to realise our plans and we can’t wait to get going.”
Mark Schofield, Great Northern Warehouse Centre Director, said: “We are delighted to welcome Northern Rep to the Great Northern Warehouse. The team has a track record of delivering unforgettable performances and I know that our visitors will be wowed by what they put on.
"It’s the first time we’ve utilised the Great Northern Warehouse as a theatre venue, and the space is shaping up really well for Northern Rep.”