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The Old Rep Theatre, Station Street, Birmingham

Formerly - The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Old Repertory Theatre

Birmingham Index

The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy the Old Rep Theatre, Photo Ben Fearnhead.

Above - The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy the Old Rep Theatre, Photo Ben Fearnhead.

The Foyer of the Old Rep Theatre as it was when it first opened as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre - From 'The Stage Year Book' of 1914.The Old Rep Theatre is situated on Birmingham's Station Street. Construction of the Theatre began in 1912, to the designs of the architect S. N. Cooke, and the Theatre opened as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, led by Sir Barry Jackson, on the 13th of February 1913 with a production of 'Twelfth Night'.

Right - The Foyer of the Old Rep Theatre as it was when it first opened as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre - From 'The Stage Year Book' of 1914.

Jackson's Company, which was originally an amateur Company called the Pilgrim Players, had begun life in 1907 but after they moved into their new Theatre on Station Street in 1913 they went on to become the most famous repertory company in the country. Many of the groups early actors also went on to become well respected actors at the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. An article on the Theatre's first year, from the Stage Yearbook of 1914, can be read below.

The Auditorium and Stage of Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy the Old Rep Theatre, Photo Ben Fearnhead.

Above - The Auditorium and Stage of Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy the Old Rep Theatre, Photo Ben Fearnhead.

The Auditorium of the Old Rep Theatre as it was when it first opened as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre - From 'The Stage Year Book' of 1914.The Old Rep Theatre is historically important today as it is Britain's oldest purpose built Repertory Theatre. However, the Birmingham Repertory Company itself has since moved into a new home, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Broad Street, which opened in 1971.

Right - The Auditorium of the Old Rep Theatre as it was when it first opened as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre - From 'The Stage Year Book' of 1914.

The Old Rep Theatre's auditorium consists of stalls and one balcony and when it first opened it could accommodate 464 people including 200 in the balcony. Today this has been reduced to a more modest 378. Originally there was also an orchestra pit for 15 musicians.

In 1914 the Theatre was altered and an adjacent building was incorporated.

The Auditorium of the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy the Old Rep Theatre, Photo Ben Fearnhead.

Above - The Auditorium of the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy the Old Rep Theatre, Photo Ben Fearnhead.

A Google StreetView Image of the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Click to InteractThe Old Rep is today owned and managed by the Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA). BOA was established in 2011 as an academy for 14 to 19 year olds specialising in creative, digital and performing arts.

Right - A Google StreetView Image of the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - Click to Interact

The Theatre calls itself a 'young people driven Theatre' which presents a year-round programme of theatre, dance, comedy, musicals and creative workshops. In 2016, the Company were the winners of the Best Small Theatre / Arts Venue, Birmingham in the What's On Reader Awards. The Theatre says that it 'strives to engage, educate and entertain the next generation of artists and theatre lovers with a high quality programme of events... a creative hub that showcases professional productions as well as nurturing talent by providing a platform to showcase amateur performances.' They say that they are 'dedicated to providing space for young people to craft a career in the arts and offer a wide range of training opportunities within production, theatre management, marketing and technical theatre.' The Old Rep today stages BOA students' performances throughout the year, and students on performing and production arts courses have regularly timetabled lessons within the Theatre.

You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.

THE BIRMINGHAM REPERTORY THEATRE

By T. W. J. WILSON

From The Stage Yearbook 1914

As the Birmingham Repertory Theatre was opened with a performance of "Twelfth Night" on February 13, 1913, it has not quite completed yet its first year's work; but as it has been open continuously since then, with the exception of a short vacation in the summer, there has been time enough for a clear policy to be carried out, and a notable contribution made towards the artistic appreciation of dramatic art in the provinces.

Most of the repertory seasons in England, whether in London or provincial cities, have devoted themselves to popularising the realistic drama, "naturalism" in the theatre similar to that popularised in the novel a decade ago and now beginning to make itself felt in the work of our younger poets. But in Birmingham the tendency has been towards that poetical drama which is less popular at present, although of more permanent importance, in the view of many critics, than the less inspiring types of realism. Perhaps this tendency was only "to be expected when the post of general manager was filled by the appointment of Mr. John Drinkwater, whose published work has already shown him to be a versemaker and literary critic of real distinction; and he has the support of the founder of the theatre, Mr. Barry V. Jackson, himself part author of a verse drama and a children's play, both produced at the Liverpool and Manchester Repertory Theatres. This agreement in taste has resulted in the production of such plays as W. B. Yeats's "Countess Cathleen," Rostand's "The Fantasticks," Maeterlinck's "Death of Tintagiles," and Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie's "The Adder," Mr. Masefield's "Nan," despite its prose, probably belongs to this group also.

The prominence given to Shakespeare has, too, been exceptional. "Twelfth Night," "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "King John," "King Henry IV." (Part I.), "Merchant of Venice," and a portion of "Richard III." have all been played a considerable number of times, and the second production in the New Year will add "As You Like It" to the list.

The manner of presenting these plays has been somewhat similar to that adopted by Mr. Granville Barker at the Savoy, though there has been no copying; the permanent apron stage, lit from the back of the theatre, and proscenium doors, have made the performances approach more, perhaps, to the Restoration than to the Elizabethan stage, but these devices have permitted the whole of the plays to be given without intervals for changing scenery or any excision of short scenes. Though the staging has been simple, it has not lacked beauty, and if rooms of state are not always well realised by means of curtains, a hemispherical plaster wall and the Marino-Fortuny system of diffused lighting have given open-air scenes great charm of colour and atmosphere. In the production of Professor Gilbert Murray's translation of the "Medea" of Euripides, the black hangings, with a white column on each side of a great white gateway, suggested Reinhardt rather than Granville Barker, perhaps, except that the chorus was dignified and small in numbers.

It would be unfair, however, to suggest that modern plays have been absent from the programmes. Mr. Galsworthy's fantasy "The Pigeon" has been done frequently, and remembering its comparative failure in London, its success here over "The Silver Box," which has been given by the company at Stratford-on-Avon as well as in their own theatre, is perhaps explained by its very artificiality and lack of realism. His early play "Joy" was less a real success of merit than a rarely acted piece of prentice work interesting for purposes of comparison. Mr. Shaw's "You Never Can Tell," "Candida," and "Press Cuttings" have been given also, the second more frequently, although the first had large audiences during its run. The late St. John Hankin, and also Oscar Wilde in "The Importance of Being Earnest," have, though, been the theatre's great draws in the fashion of modern comedy; "The Cassilis Engagement," "The Return of the Prodigal," and " The Constant Lover," by Hankin, have been admirably acted with much success. Mr. F. A. Besant Rice has produced all these modern plays, on orthodox lines, with the footlights restored, and at the end of the year he added "The Voysey Inheritance" as an example of modern intellectual comedy. The plays of a fuller emotional interest like Ibsen's "Enemy of the People," Stevenson and Henley's "Admiral Guinea," and Lady Gregory's "White Cockade" had a more fluctuating appeal, and Mr. Robert Vansittart's "The Cap and Bells" was nearly a complete failure, at least artistically. Sheridan's "The Critic" was acted as wild burlesque, and as such repeated at Christmas time.

The composition of the company has made the acting vary considerably in quality. The theatre was really the result of the performances in Birmingham and neighbouring towns during some years of an amateur society calling themselves the Pilgrim Players, and the best of their number were engaged at full salary for the theatre; they included Miss Margaret Chatwin, Mr. Claude Graham, Miss Cicely Byrne, Mr. Frank Moore, Mr. Thomas Foden, Miss Betty Pinchard, Miss Cathleen Orford, and Mr. Barry Jackson. To these a stiffening of experienced professional actors was added, including Miss Mary Raby, Mr. Felix Aylmer, Mr. Ivor Barnard, Mr. Scott Sunderland, Miss Maud Gill, Miss Margaret Dudley, Mr. W. Ribton Haines, and Mr. E. Stuart Vinden, with one or two pupils from the school attached to the theatre. For special plays other players were obtained for engagements of varying length, their names including Miss Madge McIntosh, Mr. Allan Wilkie, Miss Florence Haydon, and young pupils of Miss Italia Conti. These were responsible for the whole of the performances, with the exception of visits from Miss Jean Stirling Mackinlay, Miss Nellie Chaplin and her company in ancient dances and music, and the Graeme-Percy company.

Two plays received their first public performances at this theatre - a four-act drama, "The River," adapted by Christopher Sandemann from Max Halbe's "Der Strom," and a one-act comedy of bankruptcy, "Re Pilgridge," by L. B. Chatwin, a local solicitor. Perhaps the theatre has hardly done enough to encourage the writing of one-act plays, usually so negligently treated in the ordinary theatre; one of Schnitzler's "Anatol" episodes, Mr. Harold Chapin's "Augustus in Search of a Father," and Mr. Wilfred Coleby's "Their Point of View" have been the only others produced in this style. A sort of quasi-novelty came to the theatre, however, through the interest of the Rev. Arnold Pinchard, who prepared and produced a new version of three Nativity plays from the cycle of the Chester Mysteries, as well as those other interesting examples of the mediaeval stage, "Everyman" and "The Interlude of Youth."

The above article was first published in the Stage Yearbook of 1914.

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