The Royal Exchange Theatre was founded in 1976 by five artistic directors: Michael Elliott, Caspar Wrede, Richard Negri, James Maxwell and Braham Murray. It was opened by Laurence Olivier on 15 September 1976. In 1979, the artistic directorship was augmented by the appointment of Gregory Hersov.
The building was damaged on 15 June 1996 when an IRA bomb exploded in Corporation Street less than 50 yards away. The blast caused the dome to move, although the main structure was undamaged. That the adjacent St Ann’s Church survived almost unscathed is probably due to the sheltering effect of the stone-built exchange. Repairs, which were undertaken by Birse Group, took over two years and cost £32 million, a sum provided by the National Lottery. Whilst the exchange was rebuilt, the theatre company performed in Castlefield. The theatre was repaired and provided with a second performance space, the Studio, a bookshop, craft shop, restaurant, bars and rooms for corporate hospitality. The theatre’s workshops, costume department and rehearsal rooms were moved to Swan Street. The refurbished theatre re-opened on 30 November 1998 by Prince Edward. The opening production, Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes was the play that should have opened the day the bomb was exploded.