Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
the 1960s founder members of the '59, and then '69, Theatre companies
regularly met to discuss and develop their shared vision of the need for
a new theatre in the UK. Directors Michael Elliott & Casper Wrede,
the actor James Maxwell, designers Richard Negri & Malcolm Pride,
lighting designer Richard Pilbrow, musician/composer George Hall and the
playwright Ronald Harwood were the main team that initially met and, as
Harwood recounts in his interview with Lydia O'Ryan in November 2005,
an image is conjured up of smoke filled rooms with intense discussion
punctuated by tea and sandwiches served by the long-suffering wives, excluded
from this all male 'committee'.
Later meetings focusing on the Exchange development itself were made up
of different people with Harwood and Pride no longer part of the discussions.
Both Michael Williams, the technical director and lighting designer, and
the director Braham Murray had become part of the team that steered the
Exchange into existence.
George Hall in the context of remembering the successes
of the '59 Theatre Company with 'Brand', 'As You Like It', he refers to
early meetings of the core group from the Company that discussed a vision
for the future of theatre in the UK. These meetings are, in all likelihood,
those referred to by Ronald Harwood (see below) and were the precursors
of those that planned the Royal Exchange.
(mp3 file 905kb, 5 minutes 9 seconds)
George Hall with more details of meetings
of the core group from the '59 Theatre Company, as above, but with especial
reference to the influence of the Norwegian philosopher and Ibsen specialist
Amund Høningstadt. (mp3 file 729kb, 4 minutes 8 seconds)
George Hall remembering the detailed meetings with all
departments of the theatre organisation who were consulted during the
design process of the Royal Exchange. (mp3 file 3.28 mb, 3 minutes
Richard Pilbrow recalls experiments with auditoria forms
that Negri pursued at Wimbledon School of Art and the part they played
in the development of his ideas for the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
(mp3 file 1.2 mb, 2 minutes 14 secs)
Richard Pilbrow talks about the development of the Royal
Exchange Theatre in Manchester and Pilbrow's view that "it is the
most unique theatre in the World." (mp3 file 1.17mb, 6
Ronald Harwood remembers early meetings of the '59 Theatre
Company (mp3 file 1.36mb, 5minutes 49 secs)
Ronald Harwood talks further about those meetings (mp3 file
1.06mb, 6 minutes)
Those discussions led to the move from London to Manchester and temporary
residence at the University Theatre in 1970, followed by performances
in the temporary Exchange Theatre - a chilly, blanket covered, tented
scaffolding structure in the Royal Exchange building itself, designed
by Laurie Dennett (a former student of Richard Negri's at Wimbledon) -
until the final building of the Royal Exchange Theatre in 1976 and the
launch of the first season by Laurence Olivier.
During 1973 Richard Negri was developing his design ideas for the Exchange
at Wimbledon School of Art (where he was still the Head of the Theatre
Department) in its workshop theatre. A series of scale models were built
by Richard's assistant Peter Bennion prior to further discussions with
the project team now joined by Michael Williams the project manager, technical
director and lighting designer.
concept model of the proposed new theatre made by Peter Bennion and Richard
Illustration of the first concept idea presented to potential
architects for the project. Artist unknown.
The video clip below offers the only opportunity to see and hear Negri
talking about the Royal Exchange project. There's also a revealing passage
where he gives an idiosyncratic potted history of the development of theatre
architecture with typical, and still refreshing, poetic insight and humour.
Quicktime movie, 8.4mb (go to Quicktime
for download of free player)
NB This will take 2 or 3 minutes to download using a 2mbs Broadband connection.
A particular interest of Negri's was the effect of daylight within the
domed building on the theatre and the fortuitous opportunity presented
to the Exchange Theatre Company by the imperative to replace the domes'
glazing for safety reasons. The Prudential Assurance Company, owners of
the building, financed the enormous cost of this essential refurbishment.
Negri declared, with a twinkle in his eye, that it was divine providence
as it afforded the new tenants a timely opportunity to specifiy the colour
of the new glass. The School's theatre window blackout shutters were duly
opened and covered by an eventual combination of 3 Strand Cinemoid lighting
gels that during daylight hours produced a cathedral-like ambience to
the space. This same colour is now to be seen reproduced at the Exchange
in Manchester. The resultant colour mix - a mesmerising violet - was a
closely guarded secret!
The building was later considerably enhanced by additional technical features
and other, perhaps more cosmetic, detailing (that could not be afforded
in the original scheme) following the extensive structural repairs after
the damage caused by the IRA bombing in 1996.
The Exchange is now a wonderful theatre to visit on a sunny summer's day;
the atmosphere is breathtaking as one enters that huge foyer space of
the old nineteenth century Royal Exchange to see, suspended from the four
monumental columns supporting the central dome of the building, this lunar
space module-like structure of steel and glass that is the theatre itself.
Follow this LINK
to read an article in The Times by Diana Geddes from September 1976 that
describes the context and development of the project.
Royal Exchange Theatre prior to its opening
Photograph by Ray Green,
originally published in the Observer colour supplement of 8th October
The Exchange in 2006,
the theatre in the foreground, looking up towards the central dome.
The Exchange in 2006,
the theatre's interior viewed from the second balcony during a break in