THEATRE AGAINST THE SALFORD SKY
by Norman Warwick
The Lowry (left) is a theatre and gallery complex at Salford Quays, Salford, Greater Manchester, England. It is named after the early 20th-century painter L. S. Lowry, known for his paintings of industrial scenes in North West England. The complex opened on 28 April 2000 and was officially opened on 12 October 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II.
To redevelop the derelict Salford docks, Salford City Council developed a regeneration plan in 1988 for the brownfield site highlighting the leisure, cultural and tourism potential of the area, and included a flagship development that would involve the creation of a performing arts centre. The initial proposals were for two theatres and an art gallery on a prominent site on Pier 8.
This was slap bang in the centre of a route my dad used to drive when he took us to watch Best, Law And Charlton created The Theatre Of Dreams (see statue standing outside the ground right) )where Manchester United once played, and will do again, when they can build a good team together, although we are nowhere near doing so just yet. In our season tickets years Dad used to take a short cut from Boddington´s Brewery, where he brewed the stuff that became the Cream of Manchester, up past the Bloomer Holt timber yards on the canal side, and up to the car park for the White City Greyhound Stadium. I read about the developing plans for the theatre in The Manchester Evening News almost every night, and although that route through what sometimes seemed like quite a dark and slightly threatening landscape, it was now threat from´posh´. I was like John Lennon´s working class hero in those days, looking for something I could rebel against that would rattle its jewellery but wouldn´t fight back, I was a rebel without an arts course, but if opening an arts course venue meant closing my path to the football ground, I´d have rather remain a philistine.
Between 1990 and 1991, though, a competition was launched and architects James Stirling Michael Wilford Associates was selected. After the death of James Stirling in June 1992 Michael Wilford continued the project. The city council bid for Millennium and other British and European funds and private sector finance to progress the project. Funding was secured in 1996 and The Lowry Trust became responsible for the project which comprised The Lowry Centre, the plaza, a footbridge, a retail outlet shopping mall and Digital World Centre. The National Lottery provided over £21 million of funding towards its construction. The project was completed in 2000 at a cost of £106 million. The Lowry name was adopted in honour of the local artist, L. S. Lowry. In 2002, a nearby shopping centre that was also named after Lowry was opened.
The complex is close to the Imperial War Museum North and the Old Trafford football stadium. It is served by the MediaCityUK stop on the Metrolink tram network. In 2010 and 2011 it was Greater Manchester’s most visited tourist attraction. A sting operation by the Salford Star in 2006 attempted to demonstrate intolerance towards unaccompanied teenagers in hoodies entering the complex.
The complex was designed by Michael Wilford with structural engineer Buro Happold and constructed by Bovis Construction. Groundbreaking took place on 19 June 1997. The Lowry is built on a triangular site at the end of Pier 8 and has a triangular plan. A promenade encircling the building provides views of the Manchester Ship Canal, MediaCityUK and the Salford Quays developments.
Gentrified it may now be, but the proximity of the canal at night can still call up an echo of Marlon Brando, Om The Waterfront, mumbling into his leather jacket that he coulda been a contender !
The foyer faces the public plaza, where there is a large aerofoil canopy at the entrance clad with perforated steel and illuminated from inside at night. Much of the building is clad in stainless steel and glass, that creates a reflects light in some gloriously colooured diagonal.
The Lowry was described as “not quite ‘Salford’s Guggenheim’ … It is ultimately too small and too well behaved … although there are obvious shared aims”, a reference to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (right), which was built for similar reasons.
The Lowry footbridge spanning the ship canal was designed and project managed by Parkman, with design support from Carlos Fernandez Casado. It is a lift bridge with a clear span of 100 metres (330 ft), which lifts vertically to provide a 26-metre (85 ft) clearance for shipping using the canal. The bridge span is a tied arch and the towers are constructed in tubular steelwork to provide an open aspect to view the lifting counterweight and sheaves. It remains an awesome sight when in operational mode. .
In November 2015, the Lowry opened a new bar and restaurant, called Pier 8, after a 12-week closure on the original bar and restaurant. The new space cost £3m to develop and is part of an ongoing £5m investment programme to improve facilities and reduce the environmental footprint of the complex.
The new features include a zinc topped curving bar with room to seat 150 people for casual dining. The bar also has a feature tree with leaves made from cotton, to commemorate Salford Quays’ history at the centre of the cotton shipping industry. The new restaurant contains seven private booths, a newly designed open kitchen, and a second large room at the rear which can be opened up to accommodate more diners or private functions. Major structural changes have taken place in the building for the design, including the removal of a large staircase and the addition of an external entrance to the bar and restaurant, as well as added areas made to look like shipping containers.
The complex contains 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq ft) m² of gallery space displaying the L. S. Lowry and other collections. The Lowry collection includes about 400 works in oil, pastel and watercolours from all periods of his career. It was collected by Salford Museum and Art Gallery from the 1930s.
The Artworks Creativity Gallery, designed and implemented by architects Reich-Petch (responsible for developing the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.), uses multimedia to encourage visitor participation and interaction with exhibits to transform gallery space.
Between October 2011 and January 2012 the gallery hosted an exhibition of about 100 works by Lowry’s teacher, Pierre Adolphe Valette, including paintings of Manchester from Manchester Art Gallery and loans from private owners.
An Archive Room houses material related to the artist including books, catalogues of his exhibitions and auctions, press cuttings, tapes of interviews with Lowry and others, photographs and ephemera. The archive is open by appointment.
At the core of the complex are two theatres and a drama studio. The Lyric Theatre has 1,730 seats while the Quays has 466. The theatres host touring plays, comedy and musical events and Opera North. The Lyric Theatre has the largest stage in the United Kingdom outside London’s West End. It played host to the 2011 Royal Variety Performance
The Daughter-in-Law by D. H. Lawrence, a play in Nottingham dialect, neither published nor performed in Lawrence’s lifetime was revived at the Lyric Theatre in 2012. The Lowry was also the venue for the grand final of the BBC quiz show Mastermind (left) in 2003
The Lowry´s Lyric Theatre has also housed the first and only televised recording of the radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which Humphrey Lyttelton chaired just 19 days before his death in April 2008. An edited version aired on BBC Four, and the full edition is available on DVD.
It also hosts auditions for Britain’s Got Talent
As important as The Lowry Theatre ihas become as a venue for spectacular events, the manner in which they host them is also something of which they should feel very proud. I had the privilege of working at The Lowry as a travelling writing facilitator on a couple of occasions and was always well looked after.
There was, too, a particular visit I shall never forget. Having run a dance and poetry intervention with disenfranchised children in the Falinge area of Rochdale, I and Can´t Dance Can had some funding left at the end of the arts intervention. Ever diligent, we contacted our funders to arrange the return of said monies. To our great delight they allowed us to splash the cash on a projected-related event of our making. Our late, beloved arts officer Beate Meilemeir, suggested we take these twenty children aged from 11 to 14 to see the ballet Swan Lake, at the still relatively newly opened Lowry Theatre.
The project, even on our own Rochdale turf had been a tough gig. The students had a short attention span, and whenever collective peace threatened to settle upon us some poor individual pupil would have an emotional crisis that turned the air blue again. They were not bad kids, but they were spirited and screamed out ´please don´t let me be misunderstood !´
The young lad who was the most mischievous and the biggest handful was actually often good company, and although he really tried to hide it I think all of us practitioners thought he had a heart of gold.
I thought a trip to the ballet on the other side of the ship canal might be a step too far for what was quite a volatile group, but I swallowed my doubts when my colleagues voted for Beate´s suggestion, and so, off we all went.
The Lowry Theatre management and staff were fantastic with these young people, who were given an extensive tour of the whole building and were even encouraged to wander round on stage three or four hours before the ballet took place. We visited the Lowry Museum, (shown on our cover), and delivered one final poetry /dance workshop until it was time to take our seats in the theatre, Its splendour (right) seemed to unsettle our young friends There was plenty of giggling, and joking from the kids as they watched the rest of the audience enter until the hall filled up. The lights then fell, and we were plunged into darkness for five to ten minutes,….. cue lots of ghosts noises from those in our care.
As the curtains drew back, ,though, the audience applauded the brightly lit set and the dancers taking to the stage. Then there was pin drop silence from the audience, including our young friends, as the music started up and the ballet began.
The twelve year old who had tormented and teased we adults for six weeks was sitting with all his mates in the row in front of us. He was in fact one seat down and to the left of me, and I was astonished to see him smiling and brushing occasional tears from his eyes throughout the performance. He kept his eyes absolutely fixed on the stage so as to not show his emotions to anyone sitting near him, but he need not have feared. They, too, were all enraptured by the grace and skill of the dancers, the power and gentility of the music and the grandeur of the occasion.
By the time we took the tram back to Rochdale the group was back to its usual high jimks and noisiness,…..except for the that young lad, who came and sat to me with the adults, asking us questions about ballet in general and Swan Lake in particular.
Something changed in him, that night: maybe even in all of his mates too. No one was laughing at him or calling him into their revelry for they too, I think, sensed a profound sudden difference in him.
Art is, truly, an agent for change and although I haven´t seen him since I honestly believe that young boy, about whom many p0eople had given up, and who had himself given up on many people, has grown into a young man with a future he can manage.
Tomorrow, Wednesday October 19th is the scheduled date for the auction of LS Lowry´s famous work, Going To The Match, look in on day three of our Sidetracks And Detours LS LOWRY FESTIVAL 2022 when we compare and contrast the very different approaches to art by the late LS Lowry, and Damien Hirst, a leading contemporary British artist. Then, on Thurdays you can read how Mrs. Lowry And Son have been enacted on the cinema and tv screens and on Friday we will look at a biography of our Salford BOy Done Good.