STALYBRIDGE’s dream of becoming the borough’s cultural capital received a massive boost.
A pop-up theatre called The Den, created inside Stalybridge Civic Hall as part of an exciting collaboration between Tameside Council and the Royal Exchange Theatre, was a resounding success.
The Den will tour each of Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs over the next 10 years but Stalybridge had the distinction of being its first ever home.
There were 12 days of theatrical productions and workshops which began with ‘A Tameside Story’ which was hosted by the Royal Exchange Tameside ambassadors.
Other shows included ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out: scenes from the Luddite rebellion’ and ‘Utopia’ staged by the award-winning Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company and a concert from Stalybridge Old Brass to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre.There were also workshops and family events including ‘The Story Den’, storytelling sessions featuring special guests including Coronation Street’s Julie Hesmondhalgh and comedian Justin Moorhouse.
Marie Holland, Tameside Council’s arts and engagement manager, explained The Den is part of a three-year partnership with the Royal Exchange Theatre which she helped to set up.
Ticket prices were low thanks to the £1 million donation from the Oglesby Charitable Trust to develop the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Local Exchange programme.
Thanks to this financial backing, tickets prices for The Den were kept “very low” so everyone can explore theatre.Five hundred free tickets were handed out in Tameside for Royal Exchange Theatre shows and anybody buying a ticket in Stalybridge could get discounts for shows in Manchester.Inga Hirst, director of creative learning and engagement at the Royal Exchange Theatre, described it as a journey into the unknown creating a travelling pop-up theatre for the first time.
She said it was not the end of the theatre’s links with Tameside and theatregoers from Stalybridge will be emailed and invited to a seminar to discuss future initiatives and what local residents want.
Inga explained: “We had a mix of performances from the main house to experimental and children.
“We had good audiences and a range of different people attending and the feedback has been fantastic. This won’t be the end of our work in Tameside.”
As a special launch event, Councillor Brenda Warrington, Tameside Council’s executive leader, described it as a “historic” moment for Tameside to host the first pop-up theatre.
She said: “We have lost some of our venues that would host theatre and cultural events. It is sad but it is where we are.
“This theatre is in Stalybridge town centre and not in Manchester and it can re-introduce culture to many people who would not get the chance to see it.”
Cllr Leanne Feeley, Tameside Council executive member who is responsible for culture, spoke about the importance of arts and participation is a force for good.
She added hopefully this is only the start of a future partnership between Tameside Council and the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Cllr Feeley recalled the Royal Exchange Theatre more than two decades earlier performing in Stalybridge at Copley Recreation Centre and the effect it had on her to see a live theatre production in the town.