Tennessee Williams, a reworked Dolls House and a very special musical premiere

The Royal Exchange has announced its programme of theatrical goodies for the next year. The season takes in a feel-good musical starring Maxine Peake, a fresh look at classics from Henrik Ibsen and Tennessee Williams, a robot nun and lots of blood.

This beautiful building recently had a full reopening and to celebrate the Royal Exchange team has decided to announce its programme a full year ahead, giving us all something to look forward to as we plan our cultural calendars. 

Executive director Stephen Freeman said at the programme's launch event: "Announcing a whole 12-month programme is a really bold move for us. It's something that we've not done before. But as Manchester's premier producing theatre we're making a confident statement of intent. We're back and we're back with anger. So that's why we're thrilled to be able to share highlights of next year's programme with you today. Greater Manchester is an incredible place and we're so proud to serve as communities and audiences."

These productions are a celebration of how expansive and universal theatre can be, how joy and laughter sit right next to gut-wrenching emotion

First up is Stef Smith's reworked version of Henrik Ibsen's classic A Doll's House. Updating the devastating portrayal of a woman on the verge, Smith's version sees three women inhabit the iconic role of Nora, each positioned at a different point in time - 1918, 1968, and 2018. Each is a moment in history that is charged with particular significance for women’s lives. At the end of the First World War, 1918 marks the year of suffrage. The Abortion Act was passed in the UK in 1968 and 2018 was dominated by the MeToo movement. 

Following her uplifting production of Bloody Elle, which reopened the theatre, joint artistic director Bryony Shanahan delivers her vision of this gripping story of female empowerment from early March.

Electric Rosary At The Royal Exchange 2022 Season Credit Royal Exchange
The Electric Rosary featuring a robot nun Image: Royal Exchange

Winner of the 2017 Bruntwood Prize Judges’ Award, The Electric Rosary is an exploration of what might happen when religious faith meets artificial intelligence. The Sisters of St Grace are dwindling in numbers, divine inspiration is at an all-time low and a council-funded robot-nun has just been invited to join their convent. 

Prize judge Russell T Davies said: "For a piece which could sound experimental - it's got a robot nun! - the writing is actually tender, honest and insightful. It’s a beautiful examination of faith, no matter what you believe in.” Written by Tim Foley and directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart, The Electric Rosary begins in April.

A fact to save in your pub quiz memory bank - a portrait of celebrated actor Ira Aldridge was the very first art work purchased by Manchester Art Gallery in 1827. From May, Royal Exchange Joint Artistic Director Roy Alexander Weise brings his extraordinary story to the Manchester stage in a brand-new production of Lolita Chakrabarti’s award-winning Red Velvet

Venturing further afield 

In July, the Royal Exchange explores further afield as The Den, a sustainable pop-up theatre, visits Cheetham Hill. Programmed by Cheetham Hill Ambassadors, this beautiful wooden and canvas theatre will be home to a multitude of projects from community plays to workshops, readings, family events and so much more.

To get a taste of the Cheetham Hill Ambassadors, we recommend having a listen to Up The Hill. In an Under Milkwood style, this collection of voices tells the history of the people of Cheetham Hill through personal narrative, delving into Cheetham’s past, the roots of migration, the strength in knowing one’s community and what the future may hold.

Back in the theatre, you can rely on Tennessee Williams to serve up a steamy slice of Southern-fried introspection and The Glass Menagerie doesn't disappoint. This intimate classic is given a fresh perspective on the fragility of memory and the oppressiveness of family ties by director Atri Banerjee. 

Let The Right One In At The Royal Exchange 2022
Let The Right One In serves up thrills in October Image: Royal Exchange

Fans of intelligent horror will be thrilled (in all senses of the word) to hear that Jack Thorne is adapting the Swedish vampire classic Let The Right One In for the stage. For those not familiar with the film, a bullied, isolated teenage boy is drawn to a lonely and dangerous vampire - and so begins a chilling and unlikely friendship. Director Bryony Shanahan promises "a lot of blood", so it's the perfect play for Halloween season at the end of October.

The Royal Exchange's big Christmas production promises to be a bit of a bobby dazzler. Hamilton showed us that the lives of political figures are not just for dusty hagiographies - they can also be all-singing, all-dancing entertainment. Enter Betty! A Sort of Musical, a rip-roaring production all about former Tiller Girl, Yorkshire lass and first (and so far only) female speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd. 

In a small village hall, The Dewsbury Players (Yorkshire’s most passionate, dedicated and inventive amateur-dramatics society), have come together to celebrate their most eminent local heroine and in the process become forthright, empowered women themselves. The award-winning writer, performer and composer Seiriol Davies joins forces with Maxine Peake and Sarah Frankcom for a production that Maxine promises has "a sprinkling of politics".

Royal Exchange Manchester Reopens For Public Access 1
The Royal Exchange Theatre Image: Confidentials

Long-running projects 

Longer-term projects include Hair, Wigs and Wake-up a digital project from the Royal Exchange team featuring a series of short educational films created by the Exchange’s Wigs, Hair and Make-up Lead Joanna Shepstone and Consultant Hair Stylist and Co-creator Gege Uboma of The Afro Curly Hair Coach. These two exceptional hair professionals have joined forces, sharing knowledge, skills and a passion for excellent hair care to create eight films designed to contribute to and enhance the knowledge of theatrical wigs and hair care for performers with afro and multi-textured hair that will no doubt be required viewing for theatres up and down the land as well as a fascinating insight for anyone with a more than a passing interest in hair and make-up.

The Bruntwood Prize, created in partnership with Bruntwood and The Oglesby Charitable Trust, is back. Submissions will open in January 2022 before closing on 6 June. Established writers and those who may never have written a play are encouraged to submit through an anonymous judging process, meaning each entry is judged on its own merit. Those looking to try their hand at playwriting ahead of submissions opening can find a wealth of free resources on the writeaplay website, including hugely popular online workshops from some of the industry's top professionals. Further details – including the 2022 prize categories and the announcement of the judging panel – will be released in January.

Artistic Directors Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise said:

“What we love about this programme of work is that it’s hard to stick it in a box. We wanted to shape a year that really did have something for everyone, to create as many opportunities as possible for audiences across Greater Manchester to come and experience incredible plays. These productions are a celebration of how expansive and universal theatre can be, how joy and laughter sit right next to gut-wrenching emotion – and the fact that we all get to share this rollercoaster of a journey together can never be underestimated again after the last 18 months.

For further information contact the Box Office on 0161 833 9833 or visit royalexchange.co.uk/bookonline

Royal Exchange Programme 2022

NORA: A DOLLS HOUSE 4 March – 2 April 22

By Stef Smith

Directed by Bryony Shanahan

ELECTRIC ROSARY 23 April – 14 May

Written by Tim Foley and directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart

RED VELVET 27 May – 25 June

Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Roy Alexander Weise

THE GLASS MENAGERIE 2 September – 8 October

Written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Atri Banerjee

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN 22 October – 19 November

A stage adaptation by Jack Thorne, based on the Swedish novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and directed by Bryony Shanahan

BETTY! A SORT OF MUSICAL 3 December – 14 January 2023

Written by Maxine Peake and Seiriol Davies and directed by Sarah Frankcom

Read next: Oh no we didn’t? A roundup of Xmas pantos in Manchester

Read again: Contact Theatre announces changing of the guard

Don't miss out

Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email.