Theatre Breaks in Manchester might not be an obvious choice. We sometimes forget that there is a great theatrical tradition in the UK regions and that there is life beyond the West End. I’m going to shock you now, in some ways Manchester can be a better choice for a theatre break than London!
The Palace Theatre is the Equal of Anything in the West End
There are West End size and quality theatres in Manchester. The Palace Theatre on Oxford Street has a capacity for audiences of nearly 2,000 and a full West End sized stage. Built in the 1900s it survived a bombing raid in the 40s but by the early 70s the Palace had become a little tired and run down. It still had some great visiting shows, the best panto for miles and it was the place to see great bands when I was a teenager. In the later 70s it was totally refurbished to return it to its Edwardian elegance. It re-opened in 1981 with a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and, with a little help from the Arts Council, re-established itself a great region theatre, equal to any London venue.
In fact the Palace Theatre is so good that many shows try out there before moving to the West End, most recently Ghost, which had a successful run in Manchester before moving to the Piccadilly Theatre in London. The Palace regularly hosts touring productions of major musicals and will have The Lion King in residence from November 2012 to the end of March 2013. Because of the size and capacity of the theatre there will be no need to compromise the amazing dance routines or staging of the show.
Theatre Breaks in Manchester, try the Opera House
Of course the Palace is not the only wonderful theatre in Manchester. The Opera House is just around the corner near Granada Studios and is just as big and gorgeous! It too often plays host to visiting musicals. In February 2013 Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical starring Jason Donovan, will visit . Then there will also be a visit from 40th Anniversary Party Production of The worlds (and my!) favourite Rock ‘n’ Roll musical, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show in late March. That should be good fun as the Manchester crowd love a chance to dress up and are, erm, a little less inhibited than the London lot! I’ve seen some amazing sights at the film showings of TRHS in Manchester and I suspect the musical will be just as good! Later in the April the touring production of Cats will arrive.
Not strictly in Manchester at all! The Lowry Centre
Now, if you are visiting the area you might be surprised to learn that there are actually two cities next to each other. Salford, was once Manchester’s poorer and less interesting neighbour. Not any more! Massive investment and refurbishment mean that The Lowry Centre is a huge arts complex to rival anything down the road in Manchester. It houses two main theatres and a studio space for performing arts (1,730, 466 and 180 seats) The Lyric Theatre, which is the main theatre, is currently hosting the West End smash War Horse and has a visit from the touring production of Hairspray in the new year.
Serious Theatre in Manchester
Moving away from the older theatres and musicals, if you are interested in serious plays then The Royal Exchange is a great venue. I must declare an interest here, as I have a real soft spot for this theatre. It was the first place I ever saw theatre in the round where the action seemed to be taking place at just arm’s length from me. The Royal Exchange Theatre itself is almost like a spaceship, literally suspended from huge marble pillars in The Great Hall of the historic Victorian Cotton Exchange Buildings in Manchester city centre. The amazing design means that all the seats are less than nine metres from the circular stage. A new production of the 1982 First Word War drama The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan will be on here in February and it looks well worth a visit. If you do go don’t miss The Round, the restaurant at the Royal Exchange. It does a lovely pre-theatre menu and usually has a good atmosphere.
Then there is The Library Theatre, currently re-homed at The Lowry Centre while their iconic building undergoes total refurbishment. They’ve got an interesting production of The Arabian Nights over the Christmas period but the real treat for serious theatre goers will be a new production of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children in February. Classic.
Serious Shopping During Theatre Breaks in Manchester
Now this is where Manchester really wins hands down over London for a theatre break. Theatre breaks in Manchester give you a perfect opportunity to, well, shop! The city centre is compact, you can easily walk round it, or save your feet and use the free bus service. There are all the usual high street shops in the Arndale Centre, good but basically boring.
Why not go up-market and explore the St Anne’s Square and Kings Street areas? Lots of lovely and unusual shops there mixed with designer brands. Then there’s the Triangle area, with the best Selfridges ever, (no, really much better than London’s! Actually the Leeds one is better than London too!) and lots of other lovely shops.
I always enjoy a wander round Manchester’s China Town, just behind Piccadilly Circus. I highly recommend the Chinese bakeries!
Want something a little more original and outré? How about Afflecks Palace where you will find an eclectic mix of vintage, up-cycling and new, young designers ? The building in Manchester’s upcoming Northern Quarter once housed a prestigious department store and is now home to a fascinating jumble of stalls and small shops. Even if you don’t buy anything just wander round and be amazed by the sights! More fun and infinitely cooler than Camden Market.
If you really want a Mall then it is easy to take a trip out of town to The Trafford Centre. This is like Blue Water on steroids, the shopping mall meets Las Vegas. A massive mall, it even has its own fibre glass China Town area!
Hotels in Manchester
Theatre breaks in Manchester will vary between city centre hotels and outer Manchester ones. City centre ones are convenient for the shows and shopping. If you are going by rail then a city centre hotel is a really good choice. You can find hotels for all budgets from super luxury 5* to a more modest 3* hotel. However, as soon as you move just a bit outside the city centre you tend to get much more for your money.
Theatre breaks in Manchester by coach are a really good value budget solution. Often this involves a two day (one night) stay in an outer Manchester hotel (3 or 4*), a coach to ferry you about, theatre tickets and a shopping trip.