Review of the Year 2017 - The North West Stage

Reporter: David Chadderton

Dateline: 31st December, 2017

Introduction

This time last year, I was reflecting on the opening of two new theatre venues in Manchester, both of which are still operating very successfully.

Hope Mill Theatre in particular is going from strength to strength, this year gaining a Peter Brook Empty Space Award nomination and a Special Achievement Award from the Manchester Theatre Awards plus a couple of transfers of its musical productions to London. 53two is becoming a thriving new venue on the Manchester fringe scene as well as the new home for the long-running, biannual JB Shorts evenings of new writing—and their very reasonably priced "pie and a pint" seems very popular too, although I've yet to sample it.

This year's major new theatre opening was a little further south as Chester finally got its replacement for the Gateway a decade after it was closed down in the form of the new Storyhouse, which now houses a theatre, cinema and library.

Manchester's theatre for young people, Contact, closed its doors this month for its second refurbishment in less than twenty years, although it could be argued that the last was before many in its target age group were born. It has announced an ambitious programme of productions at different venues around the city and the continuation of its participation programmes at a community centre in Moss Side.

Bolton's Octagon Theatre is set to follow it in the near future, closing in the middle of 2018 to reopen again in autumn 2019, while Oldham's Coliseum is hoping a smooth transfer to its brand new building—which will begin construction in 2018—once it is completed in 2020, hopefully with no down-time at all.

Two of Manchester's biennial events, the Manchester International Festival and the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, featured on 2017's cultural calendar. MIF's programme, the first to be assembled by new Artistic Director John McGrath, will be discussed more fully later in this article.

The Bruntwood's top prize of £16,000 and a development, production and publication deal went to the play Heartworm whose playwright, Tim X Atack, told us when we interviewed him for the BTG podcast may partly go on a new kitchen—as well, of course, as giving him more breathing space to continue his writing. Two of 2015's Judges' Prize winners, Alan Harris's How My Light Is Spent and James Fritz's Parliament Square, were both produced for the first time at the Royal Exchange.

The following is based only on shows I've seen myself this year. Other shows in this area were reviewed by some of our other reviewers—and some we didn't get to at all. I saw too few touring shows to make it worthwhile dedicating a page to them, but I should mention the panto at the Opera House this year which finally consigned the recent First Family shows to history (last year's seemed straight out of the 1970s anyway) with a wonderful piece of cheeky family entertainment in the form of Qdos's Dick Whittington.

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