Launching in spring, it will precede a brand new theatre focused on northern and world premieres
First launched in the old Bauer Miller showrooms back in 2016, 53two quickly grew to become one of the city’s most cherished theatres; renowned for its support of local writers, quality shows at affordable prices and plugging the gap between smaller fringe venues and the larger theatres of Greater Manchester. Forced to make way for development, the organisation (now a charity) left the site in April 2019….but it already had somewhere else in mind. Following an intensive period of fundraising, the team soon announced a new venue just 100 yards down the road on Watson Street, below Manchester Central.
After obtaining planning permission late 2019, 53two was all set to turn its new home - which spans two Grade II* listed arches, much like the former Bauer Miller site - into an accessible 150-seater theatre, arts bar and venue in the heart of the city. Then COVID-19 struck in March 2020, crushing the creative industries and putting plans well and truly on hold.
Despite this, preparations have never stopped and 53two is ending the year on a positive note - with the promise of its new theatre bar opening next spring.
Artistic director Simon Naylor said: “It’s been devastating to watch theatres across the country struggling to survive over what is surely the hardest six months they’ve ever experienced. Thankfully our doors weren’t open and we were able to use this time to gather support from charities like Backstage Trust, LCVS to ensure we were in the best possible position to open a new venues when the time was right. We’ve continued to work with Manchester Central and the city throughout this and we’re delighted to finally announce we’ll be getting started on site in the New Year.”
53two’s theatre bar will precede the opening of its new theatre space, which will be Manchester’s only venue to produce solely northern or world premieres. True to its values of accessibility, diversity and opportunity, the venue will help to ‘launch new production companies, champion new writers and ensure the glass ceiling that can exist in the arts is well and truly smashed.’ It will also be the only independent theatre in the city centre fully accessible to wheelchair users and disabled people.
Having spent almost two years sourcing funding, the 53two team has now signed a 15-year lease and is eagerly awaiting for building work to begin in January. Venue producer Alexandra Maxwell said: “We can’t wait to get making theatre again and hear the bustle of a busy arts venue, knowing that it is truly accessible for any audience member. Our ‘theatre bar’ will help the city build back some confidence, and we’ll only open the larger theatre space when we can safely welcome full houses again. We’re chomping at the bit with an incredible programme already lined up.”
Marcus Johns, councillor for Deansgate, echoed her sentiment: “I am hugely excited to see 53two’s return to the city centre and announce their upcoming theatre space. It’s a massive boost in confidence for our city and our cultural scene. I can’t wait to get back in my seat and enjoying home-grown shows. Theatre, arts and culture are crucial ingredients to the success of Manchester city centre and ultimately all of Greater Manchester. Now the sector needs our help and support more than ever.”
After what has been a devastating year for many industries, none more so than performing arts, 53two ‘are excited to be holding a tiny beacon of hope for the residents of Greater Manchester.’ We for one are glad to see it.