The Royal Exchange Studio programme preview: Gods, obscurity and awards

Polly Checkland Harding

We preview the critically acclaimed and genuinely progressive productions coming up at the Royal Exchange Studio.

They’re cheaper, shorter, and often more daring – yet somehow the Royal Exchange’s Studio productions are regularly overlooked. With publicity’s broad beam mostly focused on the productions in the main theatre (things like upcoming comic thriller The Ghost Train), we thought it was time to shine a light on the lesser-celebrated programme for the studio. Produced by award-winning teams, these plays have garnered four star reviews for telling tales that are dark, humorous and always thoughtful – all for the price of a £12 ticket.

First up is Cuddles (19-23 May). Written by award-winning playwright Joseph Wilde, the play looks at how we define ourselves by the standards of others – using the relationship between 13 year-old vampire Eve and her human sister Tabby to do so. Having never left her darkened room, Eve’s understanding of the world has been fed to her by Tabby, just as her appetite is satisfied by her sister’s blood. “At its heart, Cuddles is about how the need for control necessarily ends in abuse,” says Wilde of a story that takes ideas of identity and consumerism and sucks them dry. Wilde “manages to make us believe the impossible and, right now, that feels like a valuable skill to have,” says director Rebecca Atkinson.

They’re cheaper, shorter, and often more daring – yet they regularly go overlooked

Confirmation (27-30 May), rated four stars by both the Guardian and the Independent, takes an equally soul-searching look at society. This time the focus is on the tendency to see things in the world that confirm what we already believe (confirmation bias to the psychologists amongst you). It sets a white supremacist against a knee-jerk liberal – and no one, including the audience and the playwright, escapes scrutiny. Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone (12 & 13 Jun), meanwhile, was inspired by a John Steinbeck quote and written in three weeks. Two male actors play out the relationship between a 30-something daughter and her ageing mother, exploring what happens when we discover that our parents are flawed.

Finally, July sees the return of Flare (13-18 Jul). Taking place at the Royal Exchange Studio, Contact theatre, Z-arts and the Martin Harris Centre, this festival of radical theatre includes workshops, discussions and “at least one big party” alongside the various productions in store. Four pieces have been announced so far, each with an obscure title and a complex premise. If you’re after something challenging and probably quite cryptic, keep a weather eye on the line-up.

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