New experiences

In a year that saw some exceptional performances in Manchester (we found cutting down some our long-lists quite difficult in our final Manchester Theatre Awards panel meeting of the year just before Christmas), I also had some new theatrical experiences in 2016.

Some were not related to the subject of this article, such as my first visit to Latitude Festival in Suffolk. However I had my very first visits to three venues in my home city of Manchester, two new and one that has hosted productions on and off for a while.

The latter is Taurus Bar on the edge of Manchester's vibrant Gay Village, where I saw a new play by prolific local writer Ian Townsend, The Lonely Walk Home, in a tiny basement room. It was a very interesting script that still needed some work (and I'm sure it will continue to be developed), but it was nice to finally see something at Taurus.

Hope Mill Theatre is a new venue in Ancoats on the outskirts of Manchester's City Centre and within sight of Manchester City's Etihad Stadium which is quite impressive, with a lovely, large bar and a pretty decent performance space next to it. As a fringe venue, it has large ambitions, as the production of Parade that I saw with a full cast and live band showed. This is definitely a venue to keep an eye on.

The other new venue is 53two, the former Bauer Millett luxury car showroom on the edge of town, a stone's-throw from Manchester Central (or GMEX as most of us still know it) and the Bridgewater Hall. The performance space is nicely set out and atmospheric, but the front-of-house side was still clearly being developed when I saw the second JB Shorts of the year—the first being the final JB at its namesake Joshua Brooks. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

I managed to see five out of the six summer season plays in less than a week at Theatre by the Lake for the final year of Executive Director Patric Gilchrist and Artistic Director Ian Forrest, who have both been at the theatre since it opened in 1999. Just before the year was out, I spoke to the new joint Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Conrad Lynch, for the BTG podcast about his plans for perhaps the most picturesque theatre in the north west.

While its name may be problematic for sat navs and elderly relatives, HOME has secured its place in the Manchester cultural landscape after its first full year of operation with an interesting mixture of HOME-produced, co-produced and visiting productions. In Bolton, Elizabeth Newman celebrated her first full year as artistic director of the Octagon after taking over from David Thacker in 2015, while in Liverpool, the Everyman announced it will be returning to the rep system from this month with a resident company of actors performing a range of plays from January to July each year.

Just before the year was out, Oldham Coliseum announced that it finally had the go-ahead for its brand new building after years of speculation, with work to begin on it next year for a 2020 opening.

The following is a limited round-up of some of the productions in the region in 2016, based only on the ones I managed to see.