Theatre Collection

We have a huge range
of collections here from modern contemporary archives like the Live Art Archives and the National Review of Live Art through to costume designs – we have perhaps
20-30,000 costume designs here. We have vast
photographic archives here, some of which contain
20-30,000 photographs in each individual archive. We have theatre company archives like the London Old Vic
and the Bristol Old Vic. Basically, we try and cover the whole breadth of British theatre. CATHERINE: I think I have one of the most envied theatre-history
lectureships in the UK now. Having those resources on tap
and being able to consult archives as part of your daily work can’t be underestimated
in terms of its significance to a researcher.
It also means I can bring them in for my postgraduate teaching, my postgraduate research students and undergraduate teaching level
as well. So much of the record of theatre
is in black and white, necessarily because of photography, so to get a sense
of the colour of these productions and the look of them on stage
is enchanting. JO: We’re an accredited museum.
Primarily we’re a research resource but we always have
an exhibition on in our foyer. At the moment
we’re showcasing highlights from the Raymond Mander and Joe
Mitchenson collection, known as M&M. It’s a totally fabulous collection,
was built up over 50 years by two men who met
in the 1930s, both actors, and they decided they wanted to create
their own record of British theatre. The previous exhibition
was one that was curated by History of Art MA students as part of their studies here. That looked at Shakespeare’s
villains and was very popular. CATHERINE: For me,
the most surprising thing is taking people round the collection. I always find it fascinating that each individual will be drawn
towards a specific period of history, a specific sort of object, be it photography or sculpture, but always someone
is captured by something. International scholars
come in to use us. Once, a professor
flew in from the States just to read a 20-page play script,
then flew home again. We have people using us
for theatre history, but also for art history, literature, even practical
applications like the Bristol Old Vic. We’ve been heavily involved
in the restoration. One of the most rewarding things
is working with the students and seeing their fascination develop. CATHERINE: We’ve got many students who’ve gone on to write
doctoral theses on theatre history. So there’s something
about this collection that engages students and makes them want to go further
with the history of theatre. JO: I think the most
surprising find for me is seeing how different parts
of the collection suddenly start to interlink and you suddenly see the full picture coming together by placing together
press cuttings, photographs, correspondence, diaries, costume designs – it’s as close as you can get to the real thing that perhaps
was 100 years ago, 200 years ago, perhaps was last week.


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