It’s a theatre, Jim, but not as we know it. Suspended from four huge columns inside one of Manchester’s most historic buildings is the Royal Exchange - a futuristic pod that looks like a spacecraft from Star Trek.
This seven-sided, glass-walled capsule is certainly visually unique, but its clever three-tiered design also means you’ll never be sat further than nine metres from its circular stage, ensuring an intimate experience no matter what drama or musical you’ve come to see. The largest theatre in the round in the country, some of the biggest names in the business tread the boards here, from Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren to Hugh Grant.
The 150-tonne module sits in the Great Hall of the Grade-II listed Cotton Exchange, a beautiful building that was once home to the largest cloth trading exchange in the country. Built in 1809, it was saved from demolition by the theatre company in 1976, then saved once more in 1996 by a £32m lottery grant after it was badly damaged by an IRA bomb.
If you’re staying at one of our Manchester hotels, it’s worth coming to the Royal Exchange just for some sightseeing - and maybe to sample the newly refurbished restaurant or to hang out in the funky indoor beer garden. Have tickets for a show? The closest Premier Inn to the Royal Exchange is the Manchester Arena/Printworks hotel and its comfortable beds and great breakfasts are just the ticket to get your theatre visit off to a great start.
The Royal Exchange is a buzzing place and, even if there’s not a performance on, its stunning Great Hall is still a great place to visit. No matter what time of day you come you’ll find something going on, so it’s worth just finding yourself a comfy sofa and soaking up the atmosphere.
The Royal Exchange has a reputation for putting on high-quality dramas and musicals. Recent stand-out shows have included a stunning production of the musical Guys And Dolls, and Maxine Peake’s breathtaking performance as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, which won her rave reviews. Two adaptations, one of Persuasion and one of Twelfth Night, were also very well-received.
Find out exactly what goes on backstage by taking a tour. These normally take place on weekdays between 11am and 1pm, but you’ll need to book online at the Theatre’s website or call the box office on 0161 833 983 to reserve your space. Tickets cost just £6.50, and you get to see into every nook and cranny of the Great Hall as well as peer into backstage areas like the dressing rooms.
After your event, you may be lucky enough to take part in one of the regular post-show discussions. Completely free of charge, these take place after certain performances and there’s no need to book, you just wait in your seat. Members of the audience are allowed to ask the cast and crew questions and, even if you’re not brave enough to raise your hand, they give you fresh new insights on what you’ve just seen.
Make sure your visit to the Royal Exchange goes smoothly, with everything you need to know about the unique venue.
You’ll find the Royal Exchange at St Ann's Square, Manchester M2 7DH. To book tickets by phone, call 0161 833 9833 or visit the box office in person - it’s open from Monday to Saturday between 9.30am to 7.30pm and on Sunday from 11am and 5pm. There’s also an information desk in the Great Hall that’s staffed with volunteers to answer any questions you may have.
There’s free Wi-Fi throughout and a free cloakroom that opens 45 minutes before the show. The Exchange has its own craft shop that stocks unique and affordable pieces by British designers alongside the usual gifts, jewellery and stationery. The shop is open from Monday to Saturday from 9.30am until the start of the evening performance and on Sundays from 11am to 5pm.
There’s a spacious glass lift to all floors, six wheelchair spaces inside the theatre and accessible toilets near the Cross Street entrance. Backrests and booster seats are available on request and you’ll find a range of discounted tickets for disabled theatre-goers, plus special performances, including Audio Described, British Sign Language Interpreted and STAGETEXT captioned.
Time to kill before your Royal Exchange show? You’re in luck, because there’s a not-to-be-missed area of Manchester waiting to be explored and it’s just a short stroll from the stage door.
The incredibly picturesque-looking Shambles Square is right next to Exchange Square and it’s here you’ll find the Wellington Inn - one of the only surviving Tudor buildings in the city centre. Not only does it make for a great photo, if you’re lucky enough to be there on a sunny day you can have a drink on one of its outdoor tables.
More sightseeing opportunities can be found at the nearby Manchester Cathedral. Free to enter, it’s small in size, but still packed with interesting features - look out for the Angel Stone, a carving that dates back to Saxon times. Explore at your own pace, or join one of the informative, volunteer-led tours.
If you just fancied a quick coffee or a cake, the theatre’s cafe opens at 9.30am each day. But where should you head for a more substantial pre-dinner meal?
Rivals Restaurant and Bar
The theatre’s newly refurbished in-house restaurant really is something special. Designed to make the most of its dramatic location and named after the very first production at the theatre back in 1976, it’s been developed by Rupert Hill whose previous venture, the Parlour, won the Observer Food Monthly Best Sunday Lunch Award. Delightfully unstuffy, you’ll find a solid menu of gastropub classics, from the leek rarebit starter and featherblade of beef main, to the chocolate mousse for dessert.
The Corn Exchange is a great place for some pre-theatre dining. Just minutes away from the Royal Exchange, it’s packed with restaurants, from old favourites such as Pho, Wahaca’s and Pizza Express to places you may never have tried before. Head to Mowgli for Indian street food, Tampopo for Asian flavours or Cabana for delicious barbecued meats. There are 13 different places in all to eat inside the Grade-II listed Corn Exchange - and it’s a beautiful building to wander around while you make up your mind as to what you fancy.
Sam’s Chop House
With a dark-wood and brass decor that looks straight out of a Victorian period drama, this traditional boozer has a 140-year history and is still one of the city’s finest. Look out for the statue of LS Lowry (the pub’s most famous regular) while you enjoy the classic British fare on offer. The corned beef hash cake and steak and kidney pudding are the stuff of local legend - and there’s plenty of real ale to wash it down. But best of all, the Royal Exchange is just across the street so there’s no chance you’ll miss curtain-up.
You’ll find the Royal Exchange in the city centre and as such, getting there is breeze. But will it be by car, train, bus or tram?
If you’re driving to the theatre, you’ll find plenty of car parking spaces no more than a ten-minute walk away. Deansgate NCP, High Street multi-storey and Manchester Arena car park have 3,000 spaces between them, and all are open late enough that you won’t have to rush off after the curtain comes down.
The Royal Exchange is served by several local bus services with stops just a five-minute walk away. There’s also the free city centre Metroshuttle, whose orange-route number 1 stops just outside the Cross Street entrance, while the green route number 2 stops on Deansgate - a two-minute walk away.
The Royal Exchange is a 15-minute walk from all of Manchester’s main train stations - Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria. Not wearing your walking shoes? Hop on the free Metroshuttle 1 from Piccadilly, or take the Metroshuttle 2 from either Oxford Road or Victoria station.
Travelling by Metrolink tram? You’ll find The nearest stops on Market Street, St Peter's Square and Exchange Square and all are just a ten-minute walk from the Theatre. Fast and frequent even into the evening, they’re a great way to travel if you’re coming from Altrincham, Bury, East Didsbury, Eccles or MediaCityUK.
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