Manchester has discovered and nurtured some of the finest talent in British entertainment. So it figures that here’s where you’ll find some terrific live acts, including West End-worthy plays, international rock tours and exciting new stand-ups. Manchester also boasts some of the country’s most beautiful venues, many of which have been lovingly restored. Here’s our city listing of where to catch the show.
Formerly MEN Arena, Manchester Arena is the largest indoor venue in Europe, with capacity for 21,000 fans. Since opening in 1995, it’s hosted live music acts including U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Pavarotti, along with local bands Take That, Oasis, The Verve and Simply Red. It’s also staged comedians like Peter Kay, as well as world swimming, boxing and basketball events.
Manchester Academy is in fact four music venues, all used by the University of Manchester students’ union and all located in or near the union building on Oxford Road. Over the years, live acts have included Prince, The Damned, Kylie Minogue, The Stranglers, The Cure, Blur, Oasis, Kings of Leon, Ellie Goulding, Nirvana, Supergrass, Manic Street Preachers, The Libertines and Lady Gaga.
Bridgewater Hall is Manchester's concert venue and host to more than 250 performances a year. These include classical, rock, pop, jazz and world music. The Hall is home to three resident orchestras: the Hallé (the UK's oldest extant symphony orchestra), the BBC Philharmonic (it’s their primary concert venue) and Manchester Camerata. It also programmes its own International Concert Series.
Originally known as The Grand Old Lady of Oxford Street, Palace Theatre opened in 1891 with the ballet Cleopatra. It’s since staged artists like Gracie Fields, Judy Garland, Noel Coward and Laurel and Hardy, and today hosts major touring musicals, operas and ballets. Hit shows include The Producers, Mamma Mia!, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Mary Poppins.
Taking its lead from The Comedy Store in London, The Manchester Store is a 500-seat venue in trendy Deansgate Locks. It has theatre-style seating, a spacious bar and dining area, plus a VIP room which you can hire for private parties. There’s live comedy four nights a week, featuring the best names in stand-up as well as brave new talent.
Built in 1928 and now grade II listed, the O2 Ritz Manchester was originally a dance hall with a sprung dance floor and revolving stage. While these features remain, the acts have moved on from Frank Sinatra and The Beatles to the likes of The Stone Roses, Arctic Monkeys, Happy Mondays and REM. The Ritz also hosts a Saturday nightclub event called Lightboxx.
Manchester Opera House is a beautiful venue, which opened as New Theatre in 1912 and today stages musicals, ballets, concerts and pantomimes. The grade II listed building hosted the 1958 European premiere of West Side Story and the 1993-95 run of The Phantom of the Opera, while recent productions range from The Mousetrap and King Lear to Aladdin.
Like a glass-domed lunar space craft inside, this grade II listed theatre is cleverly designed over three levels, with each of its 750 seats no further than nine metres from the 360° stage. It means every performance is an intimate experience. Royal Exchange Manchester has welcomed big names like Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren and Tom Courtenay.
The O2 Apollo Manchester was opened in 1938, by actress Margaret Lockwood, as a multi-purpose cinema and variety hall. In the 1970s, it stopped presenting films and become solely a concert venue. Today, the grade II listed building retains its striking art deco style, playing host to live music and comedy for up to 3,500 guests.