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Thursday, November 19, 1998 Published at 16:03 GMT


Manchester theatre bounces back

The first production will be Stanley Houghton's Hindle Wakes

North of England Correspondent Kevin Bocquet visits Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre as it prepares to re-open after the IRA bomb attack two years ago.

When the IRA bombed Manchester in 1996, they devastated not only its commercial centre, but also one of its cultural gems.

Kevin Bocquet reports from the Royal Exhange Theatre
The building that housed one of the most important theatres in the North of England - the Royal Exchange - was just 50 yards from the bomb and took much of the force of the blast.

Joanna Lord who was working in the theatre box office at the time said: "The worst thing about it was that you didn't hear the bomb - you felt it first.

"It was a huge 'pop' then you felt the force ... and the last thing was this bang. I didn't see the damage until it was on the news. I just cried, it was awful."

[ image: The theatre has been completely revamped]
The theatre has been completely revamped
The superficial damage was enormous. But the real fear was that the structure of the 100-year-old building might have been weakened in the blast.

Michael Williams, the building manager in charge of the reconstruction work at the Royal Exchange, said: "Bomb blasts come in two waves, you have the pressure waves which compress everything and then you have the vacuum that comes after it and that did an enormous amount of damage to the structure of the building.

"Strangely enough, it didn't look that bad, but it took a year to investigate what actually had happened to the building before we could start."

[ image: Work has been going on for 18 months]
Work has been going on for 18 months
Since then the rebuilding work has taken another 18 months. Every pane of glass is new, every inch of the building's interior has been replastered and repainted.

The theatre itself is contained in a kind of capsule, with the actors performing in the round.

It is supported from only four points to enable the structure to move and is also suspended on pillars which have lorry shock absorbers.

The refurbishment cost 31m and includes the installation of state-of-the-art audio and lighting equipment.

Now the theatre is preparing to re-open to the public for the first time on 30 November.

Rehearsals have begun for a production of Stanley Houghton's Hindle Wakes - the same play which was being shown at the time the bomb went off - it willl be performed on the night of the re-opening.

[ image: The new state-of-the-art lighting system]
The new state-of-the-art lighting system
The play's director Helena Kaut-Howsen said: "We thought it was right not only because it is a manifestation of a continuation, we are continuing where we left off, but it is also an important Manchester play."

Once it was feared that the whole Royal Exchange building might have to be demolished. But not only was it saved - it is now the home of what many consider the most advanced theatre in the country.

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