Vibrant autumn reopening programme announced ahead of return of Oxford Road 'castle'

We really are spoilt for choice when it comes to theatre and performing arts in Manchester and now the city’s creative offering has been bolstered further with the reopening of Contact theatre - the striking castle-shaped venue on Oxford Road.

The UK’s leading youth theatre and arts venue will reopen to the public this month for the first time in almost four years after a multi-million pound renovation and the challenges of the global pandemic. Opening its doors for the first time since December 2017, the theatre will reopen on Oxford Road with new and improved performance spaces aimed at supporting artists in a variety of ways. 

Contact will deliver a line-up of outstanding Black-led art, performance and film

The Building Exterior Of The Renovated Contact Theatre On Oxford Road In Manchester
Those towers though Courtesy of Contact

The project has been funded thanks to a £3.85 million investment from Arts Council England plus generous grants from other supporters, trusts and foundations.

The space is described as an “artistically, commercially and environmentally sustainable theatre of the future” and its potential is impressive. A purpose-built recording studio, a unique health and science development space created in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, new offices for artists and cultural organisations to hire and work alongside Contact staff and free work and social spaces are just some of the new features aimed at supporting creatives in the city. 

A new and improved public bar completes the social offering.

Matt Fenton, Chief Executive and Artistic Director at Contact said:

“We are overjoyed to be reopening Contact to the public after 2 years of building works, and the challenges of the global pandemic. It feels right that our first show is from Contact Young Company. We believe young people deserve the very best resources to create and imagine, and over the last year our new building has been full of early career artists making use of our brilliant new spaces. We have also renewed our vision and mission to reflect the new reality facing our communities, and to ensure all young people are empowered by the arts and creativity.”

Matt Fenton Chief Executive And Artistic Director Courtesy Of Contact Theatre On Oxford Road In Manchester
Matt Fenton, Chief Executive and Artistic Director at Contact Courtesy of Contact

What's on at Contact Theatre in Manchester?

But what about the programme? Grand theatre renovations need ever grander opening programmes and over the coming months Contact are pulling out all the stops. Kicking off proceedings in October will be Contact Young Company’s Everything All of the Time (directed by Contact’s Artistic Director, Matt Fenton), a firework of an opening show packing hedonism, love, anger, nostalgia and hope into an hour-long journey through a new world.

Collaboration will also be at the heart of the programme. Teaming up with Black Gold Arts during Black History Month, Contact will deliver a line-up of outstanding Black-led art, performance and film, featuring the live world premiere of Mandla Rae’s As British as a Watermelon as well as films from Chanje Kunda and Mele Broomes.

A Contact Theatre Interior Shot By Adrian Lambert The Theatre Will Open In September 2021 Reopen Oxford Road
Bright interiors await visitors, as do a new improved public bar and street food options Adrian Lambert

Contact is always pushing the boundaries

Contact will not be shying away from other generation-defining issues either. The Wicked Problem, commissioned by Contact and Re:Con (Contact Young Producers) and presented by ERGON Theatre, will see audiences act as the jury in the world’s first ecocide trial. Mike Onyx-Johnson’s Pink Lemonade, meanwhile, will use original beats, poetry and movement to bring to life an explosive autobiographical journey of sexuality, identity and self-discovery. 

Nathaniel Hall - HIV+ theatre-maker and star of Channel 4’s monumental It’s s Sin - will be presenting First Time in collaboration with Dibby Theatre, bringing an award-winning autobiographical show about growing up positive in a negative world that’s set to be equal parts hilarious and equal parts heartbreaking.

A Promotion Image Of Sisterhood For Manchesters Contact Theatre On Oxford Road By Vivek Vadoliya
Sisterhood, an open exhibition coming to Contact Vivek Vadoliya

Nathanial Hall on Contact theatre 

Speaking on the reopening of Contact, Nathaniel Hall said:

“Contact is where my journey as an artist really began. Their Young Company nurtured my talent and having access to the diverse creatives with a passion for community-led arts that inhabit the building made me into the artist I am today. I am over the moon that Dibby Theatre are bringing the autumn tour of First Time to a close on one of my favourite stages in Manchester alongside a whole host of exciting wrap-around events, talks, film screenings and parties.”

Mandla Raes As British As A Watermelon Which Will Be Showing At Contact Theatre In Manchester On Oxford Road Credit Grahma Clayton Chance
Mandla Rae's As British as a Watermelon will Graham Clayton-Chance

Other upcoming shows, events and exhibitions include Sisterhood by Speakers Corner Art Director Neesha Tusli Champaneria and photographer Vivek Vadoliya, Come to my Mum’s by Afreena Islam-Wright and Anthology of Joy by The Museum of Half Truths.

Central to Contact’s redevelopment has been working with local, national and international artists to create new models of arts engagement. Key to this has been the supported expansion of The Agency, a youth enterprise project with the aim of creating social engagement and positively impacting people and their local communities.

Through the closure, Contact has remained busy. The organisation has presented Contact in the City, a year-long diverse programme of performance taking place in venues and unexpected spaces across the city. See Peacophobia that's taking place in a car park on First Street in September

First established as a theatre in 1972, in 1999 Contact reinvented itself as a multi-disciplinary creative space specialising in producing work with, and providing opportunities for, young people aged 13 to 30. Today, Contact is recognised nationally and internationally as a pioneer in the field of youth leadership and creativity.

Contact Theatre opens to the public on 20 September.

Header image by Lee Baxter

This article was updated on 13 October 2021 to remove a sentence stating Chaat Cart would be providing food for the venue. This is no longer the case.

Contact opening programme listings

Wed 6 Oct – Sat 9 Oct 2021 Everything All of the Time 7.30

Mon 27 of Sept – Mon 6 Dec 2021 Sisterhood Open exhibition

Fri 8 Oct – Sat 23 October 2021 Anthology of Joy Open exhibition

Tues 19 October – Fri 29 Oct 2021 Black Gold Arts Festival Various times

Wed 3 Nov – Sat 6 Nov 2021 Ergon: The Wicked Problem 7.30pm

Tues 23 Nov – Sat 27 November 2021 Pink Lemonade 7.30pm

Tues 30 Nov – Sat 4 Dec 2021 First Time 7.30pm

Thu 18 Dec 2021 House of Ghetto presents The Black Pride Manchester Vogue Ball 7pm

Sat 11 Dec 2021 – Mon 3 Jan 2022 Dick Whittington and his Amazing Cat Various times

Fri 11 Feb – Sat 19 Feb 2022 Queer Contact Time TBC

Sat 5 Mar 2022 News News News 6pm

Thu 24 Mar – Thu 31 Mar 2022 The Bread We Break Time TBC

Mon 9 May – Sat 14 May 2022 Frankenstein: How to Create a Monster Time TBC

Mon 16 May – Tues 17 May 2022 The Glad Game Time TBC

Read next: Top things to do in Manchester: September 2021

Read again: Contact Theatre announces reopening after £6.75 million transformation

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