Built in 1845, this is Manchester's oldest surviving theatre building and one of the finest examples of theatre architecture to have survived in Britain from the first half of the nineteenth century.
The Theatre Royal is Manchester's oldest surviving theatre building, listed at Grade II for its significance. Built in 1845, it is an impressive building in the Classical style and its monumental façade is one of the finest examples of theatre architecture to have survived in Britain from the first half of the nineteenth century. It was a source of inspiration for Richardson and his partners when designing the front of London’s Royal Opera House. The ceiling, although now not easily visible, has deeply coved sides and basketwork enrichment also reminiscent of the Royal Opera House. The theatre was internally remodelled in 1875 and again in 1921 but has retained its ornate plasterwork. Its stage machinery is also understood to have survived. The conversion of the building to nightclub use obscured rather than destroyed the theatre interior, and it could be restored. More research is needed to fully understand its architectural and historical significance.
Why is this theatre at risk?
Theatre Royal Manchester has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2013.
The theatre was used as a nightclub but this closed in 2009. There was a possibility that the former Library Theatre might relocate into the Theatre Royal but this was superseded by the creation of a new venue, HOME. In 2012 the building was bought by hotel developer Edwardian Hotels London for redevelopment. The developer has no immediate plans for the building and it is currently being used as storage of both theatre facilities and (more temporarily) for building materials.
Despite the theatre being within a city that already has a good and broad cultural and theatrical offer, the building is located in a central location, in relatively good condition and could be returned to live performance use.
The hotel developer has not yet outlined its future plans for the historic building. However, Iype Abraham, Commercial Development Director at Edwardian Hotels London, released the following statement: “We are continuing to review and develop our plans for the Theatre Royal. At the heart of this process is an internal feasibility study to ensure that the theatre is sensitively maximised to its full potential and best reflects the space, location and history. Our current investment focus is the adjacent Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester hotel, which is going through a major refurbishment. In due course we will review how best to maximise the Theatre Royal alongside that work.”
In July 2019 Theatres Trust and the planning case officer at Manchester City Council arranged a visit to the building. It was noted that the hotel group had carried out some works to the building – the fitting of new fire and security alarms and the rigging of temporary works lights without listed building consent. The works that have been carried out, while not necessarily sympathetic to the historic fabric, do not appear to have damaged it and have provided the building with some additional security. Likewise, while storage certainly is not the optimum use for the building, at least this has meant that the hotel group is aware of any urgent maintenance issues.
The council has since been in touch with the hotel group to remind it of its obligations as an owner of a listed building, including the requirement to submit listed building consent. The council has also provided some advice on roof repairs and obtained confirmation that the hotel will consult the council on any future plans for reuse moving forward. Theatres Trust has also requested that the owner is asked to provide protection to the fragile historic plaster finishes, in particular, those around columns and at lower level / on walls and which are more prone to damage while the building is being used for storage. We have also asked that a management policy is put in place to ensure that those working within the theatre building are made aware of the building’s listed status and areas of particular historic significance and / or fragility.
Theatres Trust hopes to work with Edwardian Hotels London in the future to ensure that any proposals for the Theatre Royal will preserve the significance of this important building and not preclude it from being brought back into live performance use in the future.
Main photo Theatre Royal, Ian Grundy