Welcome to Then and Now, where each week we compare images of Manchester streets, landmarks, buildings and events from bygone days with today.

Our main image shows playwright and impresario Noel Coward holding court with the press before the premiere of his play Hay Fever at Manchester Opera House in October 1964.

In a scene more like a board meeting than a press briefing, Coward is waxing lyrical about his Opera House production and the simultaneous opening of a second play, High Spirits, at the Palace Theatre.

Originally staged in 1925, Hay Fever told the story of the eccentric Bliss family and their reaction to weekend visitors to their country house. The powerful cast included Maggie Smith, Lynn Redgrave and Louise Pernell.

High Spirits, starring Jan Walters and Marti Stevens, was the musical version of Coward’s 1945 play Blithe Spirit about a husband troubled by the ghost of his dead wife.

Noel Coward Reception
Exterior view of the Manchester Opera House
Although well received in Manchester, neither production made an impact after transferring to London.

High Spirits lasted only 63 performances after opening at the Savoy Theatre in November 1964 and Hay Fever fared little better when it moved to the Old Vic to be performed by the National Theatre Company.

Even though Edith Evans and Derek Jacobi joined the cast, and Coward himself stepped in as director, Hay Fever failed to catch on with London audiences.

Our second image shows the Opera House nearly a decade later in November 1970. Opened as the New Theatre in 1912, the building was renamed the New Queen’s Theatre in 1915 and the Opera House in 1920.

*Many more images from Then and Now are featured in The Changing Face of Manchester on sale now at £14.99.

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