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Theatre Archive Project

Theatre Archive Project

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The Theatre Archive Project is an ongoing project to reinvestigate British theatre history from 1945 to 1968, from the perspectives of both the theatregoer and the practitioner. The project is a collaboration between the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 and the De Montfort University
De Montfort University
De Montfort University is a public research and teaching university situated in the medieval Old Town of Leicester, England, adjacent to the River Soar and the Leicester Castle Gardens...

, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council
Arts and Humanities Research Council
Established in April 2005 as successor to the Arts and Humanities Research Board, the Arts and Humanities Research Council is a British Research Council and non-departmental public body that provides approximately £102 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the...

 (AHRC). The project comprises a number of strands that support study of this period of British theatre history, as well as an opportunity to analyse and debate findings through a blog.

The Archives Strand

The Archives strand has enabled listings to be compiled for four major theatre archives in the British Library Manuscripts Collections. Fully searchable listings are accessible for the archives of Sir John Gielgud, Cedric Hardwicke
Cedric Hardwicke
Sir Cedric Webster Hardwicke was a noted English stage and film actor whose career spanned nearly fifty years...

, Sir Ralph Richardson and Michel Saint-Denis
Michel Saint-Denis
Michel Saint-Denis , dit Jacques Duchesne, was a French actor, theater director, and drama theorist whose ideas on actor training have had a profound influence on the development of European theater from the 1930s on.Michel Saint-Denis was born in Beauvais, France, the nephew of Jacques Copeau, who...

, and each description is preceded by a full biographical introduction prepared by an expert in the field. Manuscript material identified from the listings can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room at the British Library.

The Scripts Strand

The Scripts strand aims to recover play scripts performed in any licensed British venue after 1968 that were never deposited in the British Library, as stipulated by the Theatres Act 1968
Theatres Act 1968
The Theatres Act 1968 abolished censorship of the stage in the United Kingdom.Since 1737, scripts had been licensed for performance by the Lord Chamberlain's Office a measure initially introduced to protect Walpole's administration from political satire...

 that ended the Lord Chamberlain
Lord Chamberlain
The Lord Chamberlain or Lord Chamberlain of the Household is one of the chief officers of the Royal Household in the United Kingdom and is to be distinguished from the Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the Great Officers of State....

's power to pre-censor theatre. Between September 2004 and April 2005 over 1,000 missing scripts were identified from fewer than 100 theatres. To date, nearly 300 of these play scripts have been recovered and deposited within the British Library Manuscripts Collections. Further information is available in 'Following the Script' by Kate Dorney.

The Oral History Strand

The Oral History strand began in November 2003, and aims to interview as many people as possible who visited or worked in the theatre between 1945 and 1968. The original recordings may be consulted via the British Library Archival Sound Recordings where full, searchable transcripts are available. Over 250 interviews have been added to the site, and interviewees include Frith Banbury
Frith Banbury
Frith Banbury, MBE was a British theatre actor and stage director.- Biography :Frith Banbury was born in Plymouth, Devon, on 4 May 1912. He was the son of Rear Admiral Frederick Arthur Frith Banbury and his wife Winifred...

, Michael Frayn
Michael Frayn
Michael J. Frayn is an English playwright and novelist. He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy...

, Trevor Griffiths
Trevor Griffiths
Trevor Griffiths is an English dramatist.Raised as a Roman Catholic, he attended Saint Bede's College, before being accepted into Manchester University in 1952 to read English...

, Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson
Glenda May Jackson, CBE is a British Labour Party politician and former actress. She has been a Member of Parliament since 1992, and currently represents Hampstead and Kilburn. She previously served as MP for Hampstead and Highgate...

, Ann Jellicoe
Ann Jellicoe
Ann Jellicoe is a British actor, theatre director and playwright. Although her work has covered many areas of theatre and film, she is best known for "pushing the envelope" of the stage play, devising new forms which challenge and delight unconventional audiences...

, Ian McDiarmid
Ian McDiarmid
Ian McDiarmid is a Scottish theatre actor and director, who has also made sporadic appearances on film and television.McDiarmid has had a successful career in theatre; he has been cast in many plays, while occasionally directing others and although he has appeared mostly in theatrical productions,...

, Peter Nichols
Peter Nichols
Peter Nichols FRSL is an English writer of stage plays, film and television.Born in Bristol, England, he was educated at Bristol Grammar School, and served his compulsory National Service as a clerk in Calcutta and later in the Combined Services Entertainments Unit in Singapore where he...

, Corin Redgrave
Corin Redgrave
Corin William Redgrave was an English actor and political activist.-Early life:Redgrave was born in Marylebone, London, the only son and middle child of actors Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson...

, Arnold Wesker
Arnold Wesker
Sir Arnold Wesker is a prolific British dramatist known for his contributions to kitchen sink drama. He is the author of 42 plays, 4 volumes of short stories, 2 volumes of essays, a book on journalism, a children's book, extensive journalism, poetry and other assorted writings...

, Timothy West
Timothy West
Timothy Lancaster West, CBE is an English film, stage and television actor.-Career:West's craggy looks ensured a career as a character actor rather than a leading man. He began his career as an Assistant Stage Manager at the Wimbledon Theatre in 1956, and followed this with several seasons of...


The Blog

The Blog was launched at the 'More than just Osborne?' conference, held at the British Library in September 2006. It allows students, researchers, and theatre lovers to address and debate some of the findings of the Theatre Archive Project, and to share views and opinions of the post-War British theatre scene. Recent posts include discussion of Joe Orton
Joe Orton
John Kingsley Orton was an English playwright.In a short but prolific career lasting from 1964 until his death, he shocked, outraged and amused audiences with his scandalous black comedies...

, Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter, CH, CBE was a Nobel Prize–winning English playwright and screenwriter. One of the most influential modern British dramatists, his writing career spanned more than 50 years. His best-known plays include The Birthday Party , The Homecoming , and Betrayal , each of which he adapted to...

, and Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director.An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the...


Further reading

  • Shellard, D & S. Nicholson & M. Handley The Lord Chamberlain Regrets, British Library Publishing Division, London, 2004. ISBN 0712348654

External links