New theatres, new leaders
This year finally saw the opening of HOME Manchester, a coming-together of Manchester's Library Theatre Company, which had been without a home since Central Library closed for refurbishment, and Cornerhouse cinema under the leadership of Cornerhouse chief executive Dave Moutrey.
With its two theatres, cinemas, art gallery, bars and café, the building has a buzz about it all the time, not just when there is a production in the theatre. The main theatre space is quite intimate for an end stage with balconies, but it pays not to sit too near the front of the stalls as the stage is too high and you'll find yourself ducking round the head of the person in front to see the stage. I wasn't given the full tour so I can't comment on the other theatre or the cinemas.
The other major theatre building project in the region is the new Factory, which is planned to rise from the old Granada Studios site near to the Opera House. It was recently announced that Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture had won the contract to design the building. Construction is due to begin this year and to be completed in 2019.
Other theatres in the region have proposed building works or actually begun the process of refurbishment this year. Back in January, the Octagon in Bolton released architects' images of a possible future version of its building. Soon after, we reported that Sheppard Robson had been appointed architects for a £6m refurbishment of Manchester's Contact Theatre.
Blackpool's Grand Theatre began the second phase of its development plan with work to the main entrance, foyer, box office and toilets.
Up in Keswick, the finishing touches were being put on the new extended café area the last time I was there in autumn—hopefully the floods have not set this work back at all.
There have been a few changes of personnel at the top of some of the region's theatres and theatre companies. David Thacker stepped down after six years as artistic director of the Octagon to be replaced by Octagon associate director Elizabeth Newman.
Graeme Phillips, who received an MBE in last year's New Years Honours for services to the arts, retired after 33 years heading Liverpool's Unity Theatre to be replaced by Matthew Linley. Alex Clifton, founder of Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, was appointed artistic director of Chester Performs and will oversee the organisation's move into its new £37m cultural centre, which opens later this year.