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Sir Barry Jackson and Birmingham Repertory Theatre Archive 1913 - 1970

Front of the Old Rep

On 15 February 1913, just before the first World War, Sir Barry Jackson opened the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Station Street (now known as the Old Rep).

Barry Jackson, knighted in 1925 for services to theatre, was the son of George Jackson, founder of the Maypole Dairies. His theatre-loving father named his son after the actor Barry Sullivan, and regularly took him to the Theatre Royal on New Street and the Prince of Wales Theatre on Broad Street. With friends he started his own amateur company, the Pilgrim Players, barnstorming round the Midlands, playing the Edgbaston Assembly Rooms, and taking W. B. Yeats play The Kings Threshold to London. Idealistically, they wanted to serve an art instead of making that art serve a commercial purpose. Success brought a dream of a purpose-built theatre.

Most of the early productions were directed by H. K. Ayliff and designed by Paul Shelving. The repertoire was extraordinarily wide and included innovative modern dress Shakespeare, medieval moralities, Greek drama and modern experimental drama such as Georg Kaisers Gas. Ever popular Devon comedies by Eden Philpotts were revived whenever the bank balance flagged. Bernard Shaw came to Birmingham to see Heartbreak House and founded the Malvern Festival with Sir Barry in 1929, writing The Apple Cart for the first season.

Many plays transferred to London or toured. In 1932 Sir Barry was supporting four companies and told Shaw he had spent over 00,000 supporting the theatre, calling it more fun than running a yacht. However, in spite of the unexpected box office hit 1066 And All That in 1935 the City took responsibility, founding the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Trust.

The Farmers Wife, 1926

Sir Barry Jackson had an excellent eye for young talent, and many young actors who later became household names gained valuable early experience with the Rep. They included Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft, Edith Evans, Stewart Granger and Ralph Richardson in the early period.

More recent talents include Paul Scofield, Julie Christie and Derek Jacobi. Peter Brook directed at the Rep just after World War II and transferred with Sir Barry and Paul Scofield to Stratford. Sir Barry returned to Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1948, but retired from running the company. He died in 1961.

From the late forties to 1971 various directors took control, including William Armstrong who came from Liverpool Rep. Douglas Seale staged a famous three part production of Shakespeare's Henry VI which so influenced the young Peter Dews that he later produced the entire history cycle on TV as An Age of Kings. Peter Dews was the last director of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre at the old Rep in Station Street, and the first at the new theatre on Broad Street designed by Graham Winteringham.

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

It is always advisable to contact us before you make a special journey.

The Online Catalogue to production material is provided by the Arts and Humanities Data Service Searches can be made by play title, director, designer, date and actor.

The images that appear on this page are reproduced with permission from the Sir Barry Jackson Trust.

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre Archive 1971 - present
Contents of the Sir Barry Jackson and Birmingham Repertory Theatre Archive
Sir Barry Jackson
Birmingham Repertory Theatre Photograph Gallery
Willoughby Gullachsen Photographic Collection
Photographic and other Special Collections in Central Library
Sir Laurence Olivier (1907 - 1989)