*My tickets were provided FOC via Buckt Box as part of an ongoing collaboration
In May’s Buckt box, one of the experiences was a behind the scenes tour of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Located on St Ann’s Square, this is Grade II building is one that I have walked past thousands of times yet never before ventured inside.
My dad is a fan of all things heritage (seriously, the man is like a walking encyclopedia) so I invited him along for a morning of culture and learning. Boasting the UK’s largest theatre-in-the-round, the Royal Exchange Theatre is rich in history and once attracted a visit from Queen Victoria, hence the name.
There are also still remaining nods to the buildings time as the heart of the Lancashire cotton industry, with a large board in the Great Hall featuring the dates left behind on the very last day of trading on the cotton exchange in 1968.
This beautiful building was badly damaged in WW2 then again by the 1996 IRA terrorist attack in Manchester, leading to several major rebuilds. In 1976, with the decline of the ‘Cottonopolis’ era, it was then re-opened as the theatre we know today.
Our guide, Simon (I think – I am utterly terrible at remembering names), explained both the history and modern day uses of the Royal Exchange theatre and encouraged questions as he showed our small group of 12 around the Great Hall, production departments, backstage areas, dressing rooms and The Studio.
My dad certainly put him to the test and asked about lighting, the challenges faced by production teams and actors when performing in the unique layout of the 360 theatre-in-the-round, how long it takes to make costumes, how long the building was used as a cotton exchange and more.
We discovered that most costumes are made in house and we got a peek at where the magic happens in the wardrobe department. They also have a busy laundry room to make sure that the costumes stay in tip-top condition after each show.
As somebody who has only ever been a guest at theatre shows in the past, I was quite surprised at just how many resources and how much work goes into each production and it gave me a new-found appreciation of the entire process.
It also gave us a chance to really look at the details of this magnificent building and its Victorian architecture; it;s certainly somewhere I’d recommend visiting if you’re in the Manchester area. You can find more detail about the tours and shows here.