Manchester’s Royal Exchange has announced its new spring/summer 2005 season. A mix of old and new work, highlights include Antony and Cleopatra, starring Tom Mannion and Josette Bushell-Mingo, a new play by Simon Stephens and the postponed premiere of a new musical by the writers of television’s Cutting It.

In the main house auditorium, joint Royal Exchange artistic director Braham Murray’s production of Shakespeare’s politically charged romance Antony and Cleopatra runs from 23 February to 9 April 2005. As an actor, Bushell-Mingo has worked at the National and the RSC and is well known for originating the role Rafiki in the West End production of The Lion King. More recently, her directing credits have included Simply Heavenly and the Push season of Black-led performing arts. Mannion’s recent stage credits include Trevor Nunn’s Hamlet at the Old Vic and The Merry Wives of Windsor and Coriolanus for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Stephens’ new play, On the Shore of the Wide World, is a co-production with the National Theatre. It premieres in Manchester, where it runs from 13 April to 14 May 2005 before transferring to London and the NT Cottesloe from 17 May. Set in Stockport in 2004, the play, directed by Sarah Frankcom, is described as “an epic…about love, family, Roy Keane and the size of the galaxy”. Stephens’ other plays include Herons, One Minute and Christmas.

The premiere is followed, from 18 May to 25 June 2005, by Jacob Murray’s revival of 1961’s Come Blow Your Horn, the first full-length comedy written by Broadway stalwart Neil Simon. It centres on two brothers trying to live the high life in the Big Apple.

The final main house production in the season is the new Manchester-set musical, Sex, Chips and Rock 'N' Roll, written by Debbie Horsfield and Hereward Keye, the creators of TV’s Cutting It and Making Out. It follows the exploits of teenagers Ellie and Arden who are growing up in the 1960s and whose world is turned upside when their favourite band The Ice Cubes come to town.

Sex, Chips and Rock 'N' Roll was initially due to premiere, as part of the Royal Exchange’s 25th anniversary season, in summer 2002, timed to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester that summer (See News, 9 May 2002). The rescheduled production is directed by Jonathan Moore and will feature an original score and live band.

Meanwhile, in the Exchange’s studio, the season brings to Manchester a variety of styles of performance and many different companies, many of whom are updating classic Greek theatre. Featured productions are A Different Language, Electra, Tmesis, The Last Freakshow, Masque of Water, Labyrinth and The Baby and Fly Pie from companies including Suspect Culture, Momentum and Wee Stories.

In addition, in June, the studio will host Re:Write, a showcase of the winners of last year’s Brentwood/Royal Exchange Playwriting Competition for North West-based writers. There are four chosen plays, three of which will receive rehearsed readings the fourth a full production. And in August, the season there will conclude with another showcase, Blue 3, which introduces a selection of performances from North West talent.

Note: Public booking for the 2005 season opens on Monday 22 November 2004.

- by Hannah Kennedy