In Haunt

Right beneath Manchester Central in the Grade II* listed railway arches – this is set to be the new home for 53two, the independent theatre and creative hub that faced the tragic loss of its previous premises earlier this year.


Formerly based just 100 yards away in the arches close to the Deansgate-Castlefield tram line in an old car showroom, 53two first started life in the city in 2016 (Haunt previously wrote about their work here) – championing grassroots creativity of all kinds, in a refreshingly affordable and approachable manner.

Not only did the team – with core members Simon Naylor and Alexandra Maxwell – set up MAP (Manchester Actors' Platform) running out of 53two, but they also welcomed a range of  material to the venue including new writing, comedies, dramas, dance shows, experimental pieces – even wrestling (!). Stage shows, special events and performances of many varieties brought people together too; including the much-loved MancMade festival, MonologueSlam and JB Shorts. It is clear that  the ethos of 53two celebrates creativity and community in a highly personal way, and there was profound upset when the theatre announced it was having to close premises earlier this year, due to building development plans.

53 Two Plan

Therefore, the recent news that 53two is to reopen right back in the city – with planning application validated by Manchester City Council - is highly welcomed. The location of the arches is on Watson Street, beneath Manchester Central, offering a 6000 sq ft space; with prospect for a theatre capable of seating 150 people, and a standing capacity of 350.

This exciting development opens up even more creative and communal potential for 53two, with one of the visions being a members’ bar where creatives can meet, mingle and feel supported: acting as a creative hub.  And that’s not all – this extension of space allows for even more opportunities, including gigs, exhibitions and even ‘urban weddings’!

It evidently is a labour of love, and according to 53two Theatre Manager Alexandra Maxwell:

We work tirelessly not for any self-entitlement but because of the love and passion we have for producing work, supporting new writing, nurturing young and emerging artists and offering an accessible space for artists to be able to show off their hard work. Smaller venues are the life blood to the industry and without them artists wouldn't have the platform they need to get their work out there to be seen.”

Simon Naylor, 53two Artistic Director added:

“We are beyond excited at taking this massive step towards our goal. Our theatre friends from the old venue provided us with a Kickstarter of £11,000 without which, we would have been unable to even take the first steps. Since then, we’ve managed to raise the required capital from various places, in particular our Theatre Angel Sharon Colpman, and we’re now incredibly close to opening the doors to 53two theatre once again.

“We can’t wait to become a part of the new Watson Street community that is set to bring a new focus on the arts and nightlife to a previously unused stretch beneath the iconic Manchester Central.”

Of course, 53two’s passion for affordable, exciting theatre that connects with the community – occupying the crucial space between smaller fringe theatre and the larger theatres of Greater Manchester – will continue in the new premises.

Artists have also been quick to come forward and express their appreciation of 53two – having previously been involved in related events and still feeling a connection: a key indication of the kind of the community it creates – and will continue to do so.

“53two take the heart and soul of this city's culture and give it a stage,” was the reflection of writer, performer and musician David Scott (ARGH KiD), whilst Jess Kemp – who performed at the former venue for MancMade festival, had this to say:

“It's absolutely fantastic that 53two have decided to make the move to the arches on Watson Street. The arches are a massive part of Manchester's history so to have a 53two sitting proudly within them is really exciting".

Poet K.G. Hildebrandt also expressed his appreciation of 53two: 

“53two and MAP have been a constant in Manchester for a couple years now. I was privileged to perform some spoken word at the arches for the MancMade festival, in between short plays that Simon Naylor had commissioned. The space and vibe was immense. It dripped with talent and that talent was nurtured…as I’m sure it will be in the new premises. Manchester does what everywhere else does, but 53two do it better, with added rain.”

53two Bar

53two, which is also a charity, is currently in consultation and if planning approval is secured then work will begin in November of this year– with aims to open the new space in the spring of 2020. A crucial part of their plans is to ensure that the venue is as accessible as possible – both for performers and audience members alike – surely a notable feature when genuinely accessible venues in the city seem increasingly rare.  Installations in the planning include ramped access at street level, accessible toilets throughout and an availability of lowered tables in the bar and dressing rooms.

Keep updated with the progress of 53two via their website and also social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – an exciting independent hub of creativity coming to the historic heart of Manchester.

By Emily Oldfield 




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