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Last on

Tue 1 Nov 2011 11:30 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 01 November 2011

In the early 1970s, five of Britain's leading Artistic Directors had a vision. Tired of regional theatre-goers being treated as second-class citizens, they wanted to breathe life into the country's cultural landscape. They wanted to create a theatre outside London with national standards - not another testing ground for West End transfers - but a distinct, individual voice for the regions. From the humble beginnings of the Century and 69 Theatre Companies, Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre opened in 1976. Designer Richard Negri's innovative plans - inspired by the interior of a beehive - took shape in the city's old Cotton Exchange building, a magnificent building in itself, symbolic of Manchester's strength as the power house of the industrial revolution. A seven-sided, glass-walled module, literally suspended from huge marble pillars in the Great Hall, its pioneering design broke free of the confinements of the proscenium arch. It remains the world's largest theatre-in-the-round.

In this programme, actress Gabrielle Drake chats to founding Artistic Director Braham Murray about the success of the theatre over its 35 year history. The calibre of actors, directors and new work it has attracted, and the effect the theatre has had on the region. We hear how, in 1996, the theatre was badly damaged by an IRA bomb, but carried on producing plays in the city until the fully re-furbished theatre opened two years later.

We trace the roots and development of regional theatre in Britain with The Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner, Artistic Director of Manchester's Library Theatre Chris Honer, and Professor of Theatre Tony Jackson. We look at funding issues in light of the recent biting Arts Council cuts and discuss the way forward for British theatre.

Producer: Elizabeth Foster.

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