From ancient Troy to Blackpool pier: Manchester stage set for eclectic new season at Royal Exchange Theatre

By Judith Hawkins

From gender-swapping to poetry marking the centenary of World War I, the Royal Exchange’s 2014 Spring and Summer season is set to deliver a diverse range of productions.

The new season will open with former Coronation Street actress and one half of Scott and Bailey, Suranne Jones, starring in an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando.

Woolf’s tale of sex, love and history relates the exploits of an English nobleman and lover of Queen Elizabeth I who wakes up transformed into a woman.

As well as gender-changes there will be constant role-changing in director Max Webster’s interpretation, with a cast of just three taking on a total of 43 characters.

This latest piece of inventive casting follows the Royal Exchange’s announcement that Maxine Peake will play a female Hamlet at the end of next year.

The production of Orlando will have a strong emphasis on live music and visual elements, and will run from Thursday February 20 to Saturday March 22.

To mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War, literature’s oldest war poem The Iliad has been reworked by acclaimed poet Simon Armitage in The Last Days of Troy.

On his decision to update Homer’s Greek epic, Armitage said: “The Iliad is a great action story. The war itself is a story of east versus west, so I don’t think it’s too hard to see the parallels with the contemporary political world.”

The Last Days of Troy will premiere on Thursday May 8 and runs until Saturday June 7 as well as new Bruntwood Prize-winning play Britannia Waves the Rules.

Playwright Gareth Farr’s work explores the experiences of a boy from Blackpool who joins up to fight in Afghanistan.

Other highlights include Swedish director Maria Aberg’s debut production at the Royal Exchange with Much Ado About Nothing from Thursday March 27 to Saturday May 3, and a stage version of 1950s novel Billy Liar directed by Sam Yates.

Stockport-born Yates said: “Audiences can expect to enjoy a hilarious and sometimes painfully truthful insight into a northern family. Three generations living under the same roof struggle to connect and understand each other.”

The play opens on Friday June 13 and finishes on Saturday July 12.

The season will culminate with Laura Eason’s adaptation of the Jules Verne classic Around the World in Eighty Days, as the Royal Exchange collaborates for the first time with the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The adventures of Phileas Fogg and his French valet Passepartout as they attempt to circumnavigate the globe will run from Thursday July 17 until Saturday August 16.

Picture courtesy of Patrick Lauke via Flickr, with thanks.

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