Theatre staging three classics on theme of love in seasonal return to more classic programming

What do you get when you fall in love?

 a)    An agonising and avoidable death by poison

b)    Left on a train platform wondering ‘what if?’

c)    Used as a romantic plaything for an embittered spinster

d)    All of the above

Cheery stuff, and yet the theme of love continues to compel us, hauling us over the coals of hopeful possibility and anguish, and all because each of us has to lug around a heart and soul all day.

Clearly in the mood for love, The Royal Exchange Theatre have chosen their Autumn and Winter programme, and it’s a ‘who’s who’ of romantic agony.

We're excited that this season of work embraces love in all its complexity. It doesn’t shy away from difficult moments but most of all it recognises how hopeful stories of love can be

First up, from 8 September to 7 October, is their staging of Dickens’ miserable masterpiece and stonker along the lines of ‘money not buying love’, Great Expectations.

Transposing the tale to Edwardian-era Calcutta, playwright Tanika Gupta continues a run of daring adaptations following her twists on Ibsen classics A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabbler (two more cheery yarns).

In a move away from the dusty, chandelier-clad gloom of the Victorian setting, this will hopefully lend a new perspective to watching a young man have his heart ripped out and stamped on.

2023 06 09 Exchange Autumn Programme Great Expectations 090 V3 Low Res
Great Expectations Image: Felicity McCabe

From 20 October to 18 November it will be time for Romeo & Juliet, the Muhammad Ali of teenagers feeding themselves through meat mincers in the name of love.

Continuing the tradition of what’s arguably Shakespeare’s most transposed play - just pipping evergreen despot Macbeth - this adaptation by Exchange debutant Nicholai La Barrie will be a contemporary version described as a ‘love-letter to Manchester’. What light over yonder window breaks? It’s kicking out time at Mayfield Depot.

2023 06 09 Exchange Autumn Programme Romeo Juliet 161 1 Low Res
Romeo and Juliet Image: Felicity McCabe

Running from 2 December to 13 January will be the Exchange’s Christmas musical, an adaptation of Noel Coward’s tale of dutiful, doom-laden sacrifice, Brief Encounter.

Adapted by former Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom, who took on romantic territory in 2019 with the hit West Side Story, I imagine those looking for a chance to sob into their Christmas jumpers won’t be disappointed with Brief Encounter.

2023 06 09 Exchange Autumn Programme  Brief Encounter Low Res
Brief Encounter Image: Felicity McCabe

Finally from 9 February to 2 March the theatre will be staging Shed: Exploding View, Phoebe Éclair-Powell’s 2019 Bruntwood Prize winner.

If the play’s set up of ‘Three couples. Thirty years’ doesn’t already guarantee a trip through the tormenting U-bend of married life, then its promise of ‘a devastating and delicately woven piece about violence, love and loss’ definitely does.

2023 06 09 Exchange Autumn Programme  Shed Final Low Res
Shed: Exploding View Image: Felicity McCabe

So all in all, it looks like the Exchange will certainly deliver on its promise of a programme embracing “the electrifying, heartbreaking, suffocating power of love”.

This selection should also prove a welcome return for those who’ve felt the Exchange’s choice of plays in past seasons has been ‘too obscure’ ‘too out there’ and ‘too shouty’.

This was put to the Exchange, who politely and democratically gave the following response.

A spokesperson for Royal Exchange Theatre said: “Art and culture can always divide opinion. Across the last couple of seasons we've had some incredibly powerful shows which have been critically acclaimed (see our 5* show No Pay? No Way! running at the moment) and they have equally delighted audiences.

“The Exchange has a reputation for epic classics reinvented for now and our last seasons, much like this one, have featured some really big, popular plays including The Glass Menagerie and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, some contemporary plays such as an adaptation of the cult novel Let the Right One In and the regional premiere of Beginning (which was a huge hit at the National Theatre), alongside some brand-new plays (see untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play, our co-production with MIF23 opening at the end of this month). Hopefully, there is something for everyone in this season too.”

The programme chosen would suggest that indeed there will be something for everyone, and if you have a heart beating in your chest, you’d imagine there’ll be something in the selection that you’ll love.

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