The Den, 2019

lightweight nomadic auditorium for Manchester Royal Exchange

The Den is a nomadic, lightweight auditorium, commissioned by the Manchester Royal Exchange theatre and funded by the Oglesby Charitable Trust as part of the theatre’s wider ‘Local Exchange’ program. Designed to be portable, it is capable of being built and dismantled by the audiences it serves and will host performances, debates and community events on a regular cycle of temporary residencies within communities in and around Manchester.

Working alongside the theatre production team, structural engineers Expedition and specialist timber designers and fabricators Xylotek, a sketch design quickly emerged for a circular theatre with a series of 15 ‘cranes’ around the perimeter, which raise the roof through the use of pulleys and ropes.

Materials are recyclable or compostable, designed for minimal environmental impact. The structure is a slender larch and hemp rope frame, so light that it requires no foundations. Fixings are simple and exposed and the entire structure can be dismantled, transported and rebuilt within a week. The frame and covering are designed to be easily adjustable to achieve different diameters and seating capacities to suit different ‘host’ buildings.

The enclosure is made of canvas, suspended with duffle toggles. Concertina cardboard seats are folded out in rings to create the in-the-round space and can be quickly packed away. Felt cushions are secured by clothes pegs.

The Den is intended to embed itself in the lives of local communities in and around Manchester through successive visits. After its first performances in Stalybridge, the Den will visit Leigh, Wigan and then pop up across Greater Manchester in the spring of 2020.

“The Den has been a brilliant collaboration with the team at Haworth Tompkins resulting in a new and unique low carbon travelling theatre that will help us inspire and engage the communities of Greater Manchester.” Simon Curtis, Head of Production, Royal Exchange Theatre


Royal Exchange Theatre

structural engineer


Timber frame contractor


fabric supplier

J&C joel

cardboard seating


Behind the scenes