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Welcome to birmingham.gov.uk



The Birmingham Repertory Theatre Archive 1971 - present

Birmingham REP

The Birmingham REP on Broad Street was formally opened by Princess Margaret in 1971. Designed by the architect Graham Winteringham, the building seats 900 in the Main House. Funding for the building was provided by Birmingham City Council and the Arts Council.
Unlike its predecessor, at Station Street, there is no longer a resident company, but the policies of Sir Barry Jackson survive and the theatre continues to produce a varied programme of established classics mixed with new writing by living writers.

First Impressions starring Patricia Routledge.


The first production to grace the new wide, large stage was an adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, called First Impressions starring Patricia Routledge. Audiences welcomed the new location and design of the theatre and audience figures rose under the varied programmes of Peter Dews, and his successor Michael Simpson as Artistic Director.

In 1972, the Studio opened, it became an example of innovative theatre nationwide. It was aimed at young audiences and showcased new writing, including the world premiere of Death Story by David Edgar. The new Birmingham Rep was keen to promote its local community and in Up Spaghetti Junction and The Canal Show the audience were offered depictions of contemporary Birmingham. However, the theatre was running at a loss by the mid 1970s. In order to secure funding, the Board of Directors was restructured to allow the emergence of new talent to come through.

In 1974, David Edgar was made resident playwright. Despite, the success of Oh Fair Jerusalem, the Rep board decided against staging Destiny because of its strong theme of racial tension, putting The Importance of Being Earnest on its place.

In July 1976, Clive Perry took over as Artistic Director. He wanted to ensure that the Rep made money whilst retaining the principle of a diverse programme. Peter Farago and Bill Pryde joined his team as directors. Performances from Alan Rickman and David Suchet provided some success.

However, by 1977, the theatre still faced an increasing deficit. Perry brought in touring companies and took productions to London to alleviate some of the pressure and the first subscription scheme in regional theatre was introduced.

Highlights during this period included, the Christmas production of Worzel Gummidge featuring the original cast of Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs, the Hal Prince version of Candide and the Harold Wesker trilogy of The Merchant (1978), The Wedding Feast (1979/1980) and Chips with Everything (1981).

Sherlock Holmes, 1976


The work in the Studio was flourishing, particularly new writing by women including Fay Weldon. In the Main House, the policy of guiding young actors over several years as had been the norm in the days of Sir Barry Jackson, was no longer feasible. This was in a large part due to the financial incentives that television acting offered over work in the regional theatres. Already established actors would instead be cast into the lead roles, for example, Peter O'Toole in Man and Superman (1982) and Peter Ustinov in Beethoven's Tenth (1983)to draw in audiences.

However, in 1985, Derek Nicholls was appointed director of the Young Company, nine actors straight from drama school toured with The Snow Queen, Wuthering Heights and Accidental Death of a Tourist. These successes were against the backdrop of an increasingly difficult financial situation, meaning it was necessary for the Rep management to explore sponsorship, co-productions and temporary closures.

In 1987, John Adams was made Artistic Director following Perry's departure. He was keen to make the best use of the huge stage in the Rep main house with elaborate set designs and the use of larger casts. He also developed the policy of "colour-blind" casting, where the racial and ethnic relationships and provenance of the play are ignored in terms of casting.

In 1988, the Studio became the temporary home for Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Company and Birmingham was treated to guest directors such as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Derek Jacobi and Samantha Bond amongst others. Community touring was also a huge success, culminating in Heartlanders (1989) which was a community play performed in the main house and a national tour of the Railway Children. The work of Gwenda Hughes directing educational projects had a direct impact on local people, for example, the "Worlds Apart" project was aimed at children with severe learning difficulties.

The Railway Children


In 1991, the work to refurbish and extend the theatre, prompted by the development of the International Convention Centre next door was completed. The Studio and front of house had been re-modelled and there was new rehearsal space and workshops. However, the country as a whole was being hit by recession and the Rep was losing far more money than it was making. The critical success of new initiatives such as Stagecoach for new writers and a continued programme of well-known classics like Sheridan's The Rivals could not sustain the theatre.

In 1992, Adams resigned and was replaced by Bill Alexander. Alexander had experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company and intended to extend the rehearsal period to six weeks, in line with the London theatres. Key productions performed in this period were Othello with Jeffrey Kissoon and Alex Kingston and Romeo and Juliet with Damien Lewis and Josette-Bushell-Mingo and the Christmas production of The Snowman.

Throughout the mid 90s important guest productions such as David Thacker directing A View From A Bridge ensured revenue and there were regular tours to London. However, audience figures remained unpredictable, a national survey revealed that most theatre audiences were made up of people over 45 who attended well-known productions.
The Rep addressed this issue and engaged with new audiences and writers particularly in the Studio with Kate Dean's Rough (1995) and the premiere of East is East by Ayub Khan-Din (1997), but also in the Main House, with David Edgar's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1996) and Frozen(1997) by Bryony Lavery starring Anita Dobson. In 1998, the Studio was renamed The Door in recognition of it being a venue dedicated to new work.

Now and the future

The Rep continues to produce relevant and engaging theatre under the artistic direction of Rachel Kavanaugh. The educational initiatives including Transmissions, the Young Rep,and Page to Stage support local writers and drama students to develop their talent.
The programme of productions continues to be diverse from the classic drama of A Doll's House (2004) to the community theatre project of Wallop Mrs Cox (2002) to the controversial of Behzti (2004).


The collection is available for reference only. Find out more about the contents of the collection.

The archive is housed in the Library of Birmingham in Archives, Heritage and Photography