Rocket Theatre was established in 1995, when artistic director, Martin Harris, approached several breweries with the idea of setting up the first pub theatre in Manchester. Tetley Brewery saw the potential and a space in The Square Albert pub right in the heart of Manchester was given over to Rocket to use as their base. The pub basement (then called Consorts) had been used to store dead bodies in the days of public hangings, but this did not perturb the company and they built a small stage at one end and began to rehearse in their new 100 seat venue.
Rocket’s first public performances were in the autumn of that year when it opened with a season of 5 plays, each playing for 3 weeks followed by a second season of 4 plays in Spring 1996. The company staged a combination of established works by popular writers, including The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard and Joe Orton’s rarely performed The Ruffian On The Stair, as well as brand new offerings such as That Other Thing On My Mind by Herb Greer.
The company went through a steep learning curve and, looking back, the idea of running an unsupported fringe theatre like a professional repertory theatre – performing one play during the day whilst performing another in the evening – seems like insanity!
Reviews for their first production, however, a double bill of The Oldest Profession and Something Big, both by Geoff Newson, were encouraging…
“On last night’s evidence, pub theatre in the city deserves to be a success.” – Manchester Evening News
“A promising professional debut for the playwright, the production company and its director Martin Harris and Manchester’s first full-time pub theatre.” – Daily Mail
“With such an innovative new theatre company on our doorstep, this really could be the beginning of something big!” – The Mancunian
The company didn’t get it all right in the early days however…
“If they indulge in the illusion of a job well done here, they’ll go to the wall much faster than I can send them.” – City Life
These first steps did succeed, however, in gaining the company a great deal of interest and as the work improved so too did the company’s reputation and their ability to attract audiences, sponsorship and arts council funding.
Rocket were forced to leave The Square Albert as Manchester City Council insisted on a permanent lighting installation at the pub. At a cost of over £5000, this was too much for the company to afford so, having been refused a renewal of their entertainments licence Rocket began to perform in other venues, taking the opportunity to formalise it’s artistic policy at the same time.
As well as producing new plays, the company began to produce the best work from London’s ‘new writing’ theatres (The Royal Court, The Bush, The National Theatre) and brought simple, effective productions to local audiences around the North of England.
“If you haven’t seen Rocket Theatre Company yet, you’re missing some of the most innovative theatre in Manchester. Go!” – Manchester Evening News
Rocket won the Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for Fringe in 1998 for its production of Jim Cartwright’s I Licked A Slag’s Deodorant and when the production toured again the following year it beat many of the established theatres winning City Life Theatre Production of the Year.
The company went from strength to strength, with their production of Cornered by Jim Burke winning M.E.N. Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2000 and receiving M.E.N. Theatre Award nominations for both Dealer’s Choice by Patrick Marber and their open-air production of A Skull in Connemara by Martin McDonagh.
Since 2000, Rocket has also run acting classes for adults, which now take place at Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, near the company’s home base.
Rocket Theatre is now an established and respected theatre company.
As well as producing plays for traditional theatre spaces Rocket also produces small scale works which can be performed in pubs, restaurants and hotels without the need for a stage or stage lighting, enabling them to take advantage of a wider market for their shows.
Artistic Director, Martin Harris, is particularly grateful to all the actors, writers, stage-management, sponsors, funders & venue managers who have worked with Rocket to date. The company continues to develop various projects for the future and is keen to work with a range of partners to ensure their continued success – never forgetting that their most important partners are their audiences, without whom the company would not exist.
Rocket Theatre thank you for coming to see their plays and look forward to bringing you more great entertainment in the future.
Search around the site to see what we’re up to now – a good place to start is ‘What’s On’!