Repertory theatre for the on-demand generation

Katie Spencer, Arts and Entertainment Correspondent

It's an acting system that has largely died out over the last decade or so but a Manchester group is setting out to revive repertory theatre for the on-demand generation.

Northern Rep is the city's first dedicated repertory company in more than half a century.

Repertory theatre - often referred to as 'in rep' - is a system where a single company with the same cast performs a number of different plays.

Northern Rep director Tom Moore said there has never been a more pertinent time to bring it back.

"We believe theatre has the same mass appeal that streaming services and television audiences have.

"We just need to put that on a stage for people to engage with."

The system, which allowed actors to learn their craft by working as part of a company over a number of plays, is where the likes of Julie Walters, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench all started out.

By the end of the year - using the same cast - Northern Rep plans to stage a different Shakespeare play every week, working its way through all 37 scripts.

"Instead of us scrapping around in the background, maybe creating one piece of work every six months, on a Sunday we'll come in and make a piece of theatre.

"It is risky, however I don't believe it's as expensive as everyone is saying," Mr Moore said.

"If you've got more product that you're making then you're able to pay more people.

"We're not only surviving, we're thriving."

The group said it has no intention of seeking arts grants - it is already making money by being "commercially savvy" - keeping running costs down and ticket prices around the same price as the cinema.

"One of the things that we're really trying is, in an age where someone can binge watch a series on Netflix, to keep our tickets between £10 and £20."

Theatre veteran Simon Callow - who recently directed a new London production of The Philanthropist - described the demise of repertory theatre as "stupid and self-defeating".

"The repertory system has completely died except for one or two theatres that are doing wonderful work, like Sheffield for example, but they don't maintain companies.

"It was the company that was the great training ground for actors and so many an actor that comes to do a West End play has never had that experience."

But theatre critic Mark Shenton is not convinced that today's actors really want rep to make a comeback.

"Repertory theatre is largely a relic of a bygone age," he said.

"Old time theatrical actors romanticise about it because it's where many of them trained on the job but very few actors want to commit to the sorts of runs that are required.

"Most West End or Broadway runs are booked for 12 or 13 weeks. That's as much as an actor wants to do."