The Library Theatre Company, whose home for 58 years was in the basement of Manchester’s historic Central Reference Library, began in 1952, with a production of Oscar Wilde’s hilarious comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. But its history can be traced back a further six years, when the Manchester Corporation Act of 1946 empowered the city’s Libraries’ Committee to fully utilise the theatre for “…the performance of stage plays for or in connection with the advancement of art, educations, drama, science or literature.”
Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the company employed numerous actors who would go on to become household names, including Anthony Hopkins – whose professional stage debut in 1960 was on our stage – Martin Jarvis, Janet Suzman, Patrick Stewart, and Alan Rickman. Its long-serving Artistic Director David Scase enjoyed two periods guiding the company, from 1954-1966, and 1969-1983.
The small (312-seats) but intimate theatre became a firm favourite for actors and audiences alike, who loved the space’s intimate atmosphere. In 1971, the company began performing at the Wythenshawe Forum, a 500-seat venue in the middle of what for many years was Europe’s largest local authority housing project. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the company enjoyed a fruitful spell presenting European premiere productions of American musicals, notably Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, Follies, and Pacific Overtures.
A number of shows also transferred to the West End, including, in 1996, and starring Hollywood legend Gene Wilder, Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, directed by Roger Haines, the company’s Associate Director from 1982-2010.
Chris Honer arrived as Artistic Director in 1987, and he strengthened the company’s reputation with a string of hit Manchester Evening News Theatre-Award winning productions, such as The Merchant of Venice (1993), The Life of Galileo (1996 – sharing it jointly with two other Library Theatre Company productions, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and My Night With Reg, directed by David Fleeshman).
The company’s run of success continued into the new century, but by now, the theatre space and its facilities were looking a little careworn compared to other venues in the North West. When Manchester City Council confirmed that the long-talked about major refurbishment of Central Library would commence in 2010, and that upon its reopening four years later the venue would not include the theatre space, exploratory talks were held with Manchester’s Cornerhouse about the two companies merging.
In the meantime, the company signed a deal to present three shows at year at The Lowry, as well as presenting three site-specific productions between 2011 and 2013. Library Theatre Company and Cornerhouse formally joined forces in April 2012, with a new home, HOME, scheduled to open in in 2015, which takes us roughly to where we are now.
Building on its heritage of Library Theatre Company and Cornerhouse, HOME will produce the best in contemporary theatre, visual art and film, learning and participation, creative industries and digital innovation. The new venue will include a 500-seat theatre, a 150-seat flexible studio space, a 500m², four metre-high gallery space, five cinema screens, education spaces, digital production and broadcast facilities, a café bar, a restaurant and offices. HOME will provide new opportunities for artists and audiences to create work in different ways together and serve as a social and cultural hub – in one building visitors will be able to see original new work across the visual arts, theatre and film.