history saved in new drama archive
artefacts documenting the history of modern British theatre
have been saved from obscurity by a new archive at the
University, including letters by Noel Coward, Peggy Ashcroft
and John Gielgud.
studies professor Philip Roberts (left)
has been instrumental in bringing the archives of major
figures in the theatre, such as George Devine and Lord
Harewood, to the University, creating what is already
one of the biggest collections of modern theatrical documents
Devine was the first artistic director of the Royal Court
theatre, and an influential producer of new writing. From
the 1950s he staged productions by a series of new writers,
helping to make the names of playwrights such as Osborne,
Pinter and Beckett.
Roberts said: "There's a glamour side to the archive,
with correspondence from figures such as Gielgud, Olivier,
Ashcroft and many others. But the archive also has the
full financial accounts of the theatre from 1956 to the
present day, documenting how such an institution managed
to survive in adverse economic and political conditions."
such a major collection to Leeds has had a domino effect,
with other collections following suit. Professor Roberts
has been hunting down people involved in the alternative
theatre of the 1960s and 70s, to see what treasures they
might have hidden in their attics.
very nature of alternative theatre means that things were
done on a wing and a prayer, and so papers from that time
are scattered and in grave danger of being lost for ever.
Many people aren't even aware they still have papers from
the time. It's been fascinating tracking it all down Ð
a bit like detective work."
Harewood has donated his archive, including correspondence
with T S Eliot, and Princess Margaret. Also coming to
Leeds is the archive of the late John Hodgson, former
head of drama at Bretton Hall, including material by the
world famous choreographer Rudolf Laban, who designed
the first ballet notation. Most recently, the West Yorkshire
Playhouse has agreed to add its extensive archive to the
collection on an ongoing basis.
Roberts, in partnership with the head of special collections
Chris Sheppard, has applied for an AHRB grant to catalogue
the collection, and ensure its accessiblility through
a dedicated website.