All change at the top
2018 has seen quite a few changes in leadership in theatres across the North West. Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, which won its fifth consecutive Most Welcoming Theatre in the North West award from UK Theatre, lost its artistic director Conrad Lynch after only two years in the post due to disagreements with the board over the future development of the theatre. Lynch, one of the few regional artistic directors who is not a director himself, had taken the theatre in whole new directions since his appointment, creating co-productions with other companies and touring some of the theatre's own work outside the region.
Similar differences of opinion seemed to behind the departure of Mark Dobson as executive director of Manchester's Royal Exchange, who said that he and Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom "are not the right partnership for the next phase of the Royal Exchange’s development". He was replaced by Stephen Freeman, former chief executive at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. At HOME Manchester, the departure of Walter Meierjohann, artistic director of theatre, was announced while he was directing Kathryn Hunter in The Emperor again in New York, and he seemed to disappear very soon after.
The departure of Elizabeth Newman from the Octagon Theatre in Bolton to be artistic director of Pitlochry Festival Theatre appears to have been much more amicable. Newman was only in the post for three years but had been a key member of the Octagon production team for a decade. There has been no announcement about her replacement, but soon after her departure the theatre closed for refurbishment and announced a season out on the road. Contact, meanwhile, is still out on the road with productions and events all over the city while its own major refurbishments continue.
Oldham Coliseum announced in November that Kevin Shaw would step down as chief executive and artistic director after 17 years, a few days before it became known that Oldham Council had cancelled plans for their new £27 million just before building work was due to commence. The Coliseum has remained upbeat on social media in its responses to people expressing outrage at the Council's decision, insisting that it involves a change of options rather than a cancellation of the whole plan, but no indication has yet been given of what the alternatives are. Associate director Chris Lawson has been appointed as acting artistic director.
Over in Liverpool, the Everyman's acting company, hailed as a return to the old rep system when it was introduced in 2016, was pulled at the end of 2018 with an announcement that the company was withdrawing from the Arts Council's national portfolio until it had made changes to its infrastructure to stabilise the company financially.
The Manchester Theatre Awards, run by an independent panel of local critics since the cancellation of the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards in 2011 but effectively tracing its origins to 1981, announced it would cease immediately due to some of the leading theatres in the region withdrawing their support for the awards. This was not, as reported by some, principally about financial contributions, but a general withdrawal of support, and so the panel felt there was little point in continuing to volunteer their time for something that was no longer wanted by the recipients of the awards.
In the Manchester fringe, Hope Mill Theatre celebrated its third birthday with a series of special events, and JB Shorts, the biannual series of short plays by TV writers which took its name from its original location in the cellar of the Joshua Brooks pub, reached the age of ten with JB Shorts 20 at its new venue of 53two.
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.