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12th October 2020

The shows must go on: where to catch (socially distanced) theatre in Manchester

Find out which shows can still be attended live this season, as Head Theatre Editor Jay Darct discusses the Manchester theatres set to re-open with social distancing measures in place
The shows must go on: where to catch (socially distanced) theatre in Manchester
Photo: David Dixon

Coronavirus has been especially hard on the arts, and theatre in particular. Social distancing is simply not feasible for most big productions, who will be unable to make a profit with reduced audiences.

This is why it is unsurprising that ATG’s Palace Theatre and Opera House have recently announced that they will be closed for at least another two months, and have postponed their traditional end-of-year pantomime by a full year. These theatres host most of the “big” musicals that come to Manchester, and will most likely not be back until social distancing ends.

Fortunately for us theatre lovers, there are still a few shows coming to Manchester over the next few months – shows that allow for social distancing.

The Lowry, in Salford, is opening its doors in late November for the arrival of two popular shows. Both were set to be performed at the Lowry’s smaller Quays Theatre, but social distancing means they will be performed in its much bigger Lyric Theatre. Interestingly, one of the shows, the smash-hit musical Six, is set to open in London’s own Lyric Theatre. This is because its current home, the Arts Theatre, has a much smaller capacity, so operating it with social distancing would mean too few tickets would be available.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Six is a feminist concert musical about the six wives of Henry VIII, who are taking back the microphone and changing history to herstory. Six is playing from the 27th of November to the 10th of January.

The Lowry’s other show is The Gruffalo, a fun kids’ show playing from the 4th of December to the 10th of January.

HOME have announced their socially distanced September 2020 – January 2021 theatre season, with all shows being performed in Theatre 1. These shows include Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers, an award-winning show that played at HOME three years ago to rave reviews (including one by The Mancunion).

There will also be shows by Young Identity, RashDash, David Hoyle and Sh!t Theatre. I am particularly excited for Séayoncé: Déjà Voodoo – a “dragtastic séance”.

Hope Mill is back with the popular rock musical Rent, loosely based on Puccini’s opera La bohème. This production is directed by Luke Sheppard (& Juliet, Spring Awakening). It is playing from the 30th of October to the 6th of December. Hope Mill Theatre is a small, intimate space, so I am interested in seeing what it will be like with even fewer people in it.

The world’s first Covid-compliant theatre, DriveINSIDE, was set to open in October, but following the recommendation of Manchester Council’s Specialist Environmental Team, they have decided to postpone the programme until March 2021. Whilst this is a little ironic, they have stated that they must still act in a supportive and responsible manner.

DriveINSIDE is a drive-in theatre, under a huge tent, which means that shows can go on no matter the weather. Each car will have a space to its right for attendees to get out and watch the show, either standing or on camping chairs. Unlike other drive-ins, the stage is placed right in the middle, offering an in-the-round theatre experience, and providing a great view for all attendees. It will be interesting to see how this works in practice, and we will be sure to review it once it opens.

However, ScareCity, a drive-in cinema with live actors roaming around, is still taking place. As well as live actors, ScarCity also has a Tunnel of Doom, a ghoul graveyard, photo shacks, food cabins, a wicked winnebago, and a haunted house. It sounds like a terrifying, immersive experience that film, theatre and horror fans will all appreciate.

So, there you have it, theatre-lovers. Come what may, the shows will go on!

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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