on February 24, 2013
We booked the Christmas show at the Royal Exchange Theatre - had a wonderful afternoon out, not only did we enjoy the performance, we loved the chance to explore this beautiful theatre and its surroundings.It is very easy to find - right in the city centre close to all the shops, in a building which was once the Victorian Cotton Exchange. The theatre is in the Great Hall - a historic and very beautiful setting.The Royal Exchange was founded in 1976. An IRA bomb in the centre of Manchester in 1996 caused it extensive damage, it was closed for 2 years for repairs and rebuilding work, then opened again in 1998. They did a great job with the rebuilding - it is a lovely theatre.It is architecturally interesting due to the fact that it is actually suspended from pillars of the building. It is 7 sided and made of glass and steel. The floor of the Great Hall would not be able to take the weight of the theatre and the audience, so they suspended it from the pillars. Only the stage and ground floor seating rest on the floor.The whole place has a quirky and individual feeling and atmosphere - we loved it. The only slight negative was that it didn't feel quite warm enough - we kept our coats on during the performance. There are 760 seats in total and the stage is in "the round" - this is the biggest of this type of the theatre in the UK. I think you would get a good view wherever you sit, but seats on the ground floor are definitely best. We sat 3 rows from the front on the ground floor - this was perfect. Front row seats looked very low to the ground and not as comfortable as those behind.We felt very close to the stage and the use of the aisles by the actors heightened the feeling of closeness and involvement of the audience.The show we saw was Rats Tales by our poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It was wonderful. There were 8 different stories, all based on fairytales but with a dark twist. They ranged from the Pied Piper of Hamelin to an Italian folk tale called Wooden Maria to some stories by Carol Ann Duffy herself. The performance was gripping for adults and children alike - dark, brooding and intense, both we and our 9 year old were enthralled throughout the whole show.The Pied Piper was the first story - the children were wonderful as "rats", the rat catcher was sinister, mysterious and menacing and the whole story was brought to life in a fresh way. The use of CCTV cameras at the end showing the children "disappearing" was spine chillling but so clever. The actors were all superb and the use of lighting, smoke and music to evoke different atmospheres was inspired.We loved this show and the theatre, but also the Great Hall. There is a restaurant, a couple of little bars, several craft stalls and lots of information about the history of the building. You can explore even if you are not going to a show - definitely recommended.
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