Theatre Centre

Company name: Theatre Centre

Founders: Brian Way and Margaret Faulkes. Artistic Directors: Brian Way 1953-1977, David Johnston 1977-1986, Libby Mason 1986-1992, Rosamunde Hutt 1993-2007, Natalie Wilson since 2007

Established: 1953

Reason: To establish a professional theatre company that commissions new writing and educational theatre to tour around schools and venues across the UK.

Current Status: Continues to operate – see Theatre Centre website

Area of Work: TIE & YPT and New Writing including: Women’s, Black & Asian, Disability, Gay and Lesbian

Policy: To produce young people’s theatre – to enrich the learning of young people and teachers. To develop new writing in collaboration with young people in order to create outstanding theatre for young audiences across the UK. To tour schools with programmes on social and educational themes, with a high standard of theatre intended as a stimulus to further classroom activity. To undertake the development of multi-ethnic theatre in casting, content, and employment throughout the organisation and a commitment to feminism; one of the touring units was a Women’s company and also a Mixed company.

Structure: There have been various management structures, including collectives. Management structure: Artistic Director, Administrator. Various writers-in-residence, designers, directors, actors. An equal wage policy was established during David Johnston’s time as Artistic Director 1977-1986.

Based: London and tours nationally and internationally. First home in 1961 was a church in Kensal Green, London, then a shop in West End Lane, Camden, in 1976. Moved in 1981 to Hanover Primary School, Noel Road, Islington, London, N1 8BD; Toynbee Workshops, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets in 1996, now based in Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT.

Funding: Theatre Centre is a registered charity and a Non-Profit Organisation. Funders have included: Arts Council of Great Britain, Greater London Council, Inner London Education Authority, Islington Inner City Partnerships, London Boroughs Grant Scheme, Islington Council and National Lottery. It received its first Arts Council England grant in 1966. In 2012 Theatre Centre became an ACE National Portfolio Organisation (supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England).

Performance venues: Schools, youth centres, festivals, conferences

Audiences: Schoolchildren and young people

Company and work process:
1953 – Brian Way and Margaret Faulkes founded Theatre Centre (Brian Way’s work with Theatre Centre). Their first show was The Man Born to be King by Dorothy L Sayers, 1953 – Dorothy L. Sayers gave Brian Way the £200 to help set up.
1977 – Brian Way emigrated to Canada. David Johnston became Artistic Director (David Johnston talks about his work with TC). Theatre Centre started to make work with strong social and political perspectives.
1979 – Theatre Centre’s Islington Company was formed. This reflected the company’s increasing grant aid from ILEA and GLC.
1982 – David Holman’s peace plays were produced and toured schools. This provoked outrage from Norman Tebbit who raised questions in Parliament and hit newspaper headlines as he urged parents not to allow their children to see the plays.
1982 – Bill Mitchell joined as designer.
1983 – Theatre Centre’s Women’s company was formed. This created opportunities for women in all aspects of production.
1985 – Theatre Centre’s Mixed company was formed to reflect the multi-racial population and to integrate disability arts.
1986 –1992 – Libby Mason became Artistic Director (Libby Mason talks about her work with TC). She introduced depth to the development process of play-making.
1986 – Laughter from the Other Side by Noël Greig was produced – this marked the beginning of a 23-year association up until Noël’s death in 2009.
1986 – Theatre Centre was one of the visiting companies at the Chicago International Theatre Festival, presenting David Holman’s Peacemaker and Getting Through by Nona Shepphard.
1986 – Theatre Centre experimented with being run as a 25-person collective. It ended as a ‘magnificent failure’.
1988 – Familiar Feelings by Noël Greig toured with a young actor called Roy Williams. Roy then joined Theatre Centre’s writers group.
1993 – Rosamunde Hutt became Artistic Director. She introduced an era of increased investment in production values.
2003 – Theatre Centre celebrated its 50th anniversary and published Plays for Young People – Celebrating 50 Years of Theatre Centre by Benjamin Zephaniah, Anna Reynolds, Anna Furse, Cheryl Robson (Aurora Metro Publications, 2003).
2007 – Natalie Wilson became Artistic Director.

Theatre Centre is a member of SCYPT (Standing Conference of Young People’s Theatre). Theatre Centre has worked with award winning writers such as Lisa Evans, Noël Greig, Jackie Kay, Mike Kenny, Bryony Lavery, Roy Williams and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Personal appraisal and thoughts:
David Holman talks about Theatre Centre’s productions in the early 1980s: ‘Theatre Centre was invited to Malta. We arrived with our two current plays which explored the world of the Arctic Inuit. As we experienced the summer heat, my heart went out to the actors who performed in fake fur costumes. It also went out to the young Maltese audiences – what could they possibly make of this material which they would surely find totally irrelevant to them? The first performance of Roger Watkins’ production of the play Imap Inua arrived. Outside the temperature was over 100 degrees and no less in the hall. Two hundred girls in uniform watched as the play began. The first 10 minutes were Inuktituk. This was going to be a disaster surely. I don’t know if there is anything in Maltese history or experience which has echoes of this Inuit experience, probably not, but the production was received in a way that, if you are a writer, you dream about. Intense concentration, empathy, total absorption. We started to relax. The work seemed to travel. Plays produced at Theatre Centre travelled quite extensively after that. Peacemaker was produced by foreign companies, from Brazil to Israel and from Japan to Canada. There was also the exchange of artistic personnel between Theatre Centre and the Youth Arts of South Australia, which led to Roger Watkins’ production of The Disappeared making such an impact in Australia.’

Bryony Lavery talks about her work with Theatre Centre.

Writer Tony Coult joined Theatre Centre after seeing their plays at SCYPT conferences. He describes Theatre Centre run by David Johnston as ‘the centre of identity politics’ – feminists and identity politics people gravitated there. ‘I decided I wanted to be a writer but I was confused about what kind of companies I should be going to. Frankly, it was not a good moment to be a straight male, white, middle class guy. Most companies like Theatre Centre didn’t want people like me. That kind of alternative theatre or educational based theatre was shifting into much more of an identity politics sort of phase and I think I was a bit out of step with that.’ Tony enjoyed working at Theatre Centre with Bill Mitchell, but feels the times were against him picking up more work there. ‘I did one play for Theatre Centre which I thought was great – I loved working with Bill Mitchell – but again I think it was a bad moment to want to press a case to carry on working at Theatre Centre…the drift then was away from people like me. I suspect they wanted more people like Bryony Lavery and Roy Williams (who I later taught).’

The Women’s Company was formed in 1983 with two main concerns in mind:

1. To create job opportunities for women in a male dominated profession by employing women as performers, administrators, writers, designers and directors.

2. To make an initiative to anti-sexist education by developing the imagery and language of theatre from a female perspective, in order to provide an affirmative experience for girls and a subtly challenging experience for boys.

‘The years at Theatre Centre between 1984 and 1987, when the Women’s Company and the Mixed Company were in full flight, were an incredibly interesting and exciting time, and were, I think, a formative stage both for the company and for many of the individuals involved. There was an extremely vibrant, vocal and talented mix of people to be found there, working in every area of the company – people who, in meetings, challenged the way the company worked, at the same time as, in performance, challenging the way the world worked. It wasn’t that you necessarily said we must discuss women’s issues, but it was obviously from a woman’s perspective. The piece Under Exposure by Lisa Evans was about a struggle that was largely ignored, as a lot of women’s history and particularly black women’s history had been.’ Nona Shepphard

Reviews: Descriptions and reviews of some the shows produced by Theatre Centre can be found in Theatre for the Young by Alan England (Macmillan Education Ltd, 1990) and in SCYPT Journals.

Productions:

PRODUCTION NAMEVENUESDATES
Jingo's Journey
Writer: David Johnston
Theatre Centre1976
Plague '78
Writer: David Holman
Theatre Centre1978
Strange Encounters
Writer: Chris Denys
1978
Dee's Dream
Writer: David Johnston
1979
Witchplay
Writer: Mike Maynard
1979
Moving On Up
Writer: Chris Denys
Silent Guns
Writer: Roger Watkins
Nuts
Writer: David Johnston
1980
Bolts
Writer: David Holman
1980
Angels Over Islington
Writer: David Holman
1980
Shrewd Woman
Writer: Geoff Bullen
The Monkey And The Crocodile
Writer: Charles Way
1980
The Stranger
Writer: David Johnston
1980
Wild Boy Of Aveyron
Writer: David Holman
1980
The Disappeared
Writer: David Holman
1980
Kypuru's Cave
Writer: Chris Hawes
1980
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Writer: David Holman
1981
Atuk's Return
Writer: David Johnston
1981
Imap Inua
Writer: David Holman
1981
Wheels
Writer: David Johnston
1981
Chairperson
Writer: Geoff Bullen
1981
Why?
Writer: David Holman
1981
Cut!
Writer: Mike Maynard
1982
Don't Just Sit There
Writer: Charles Way
1982
Drink the Mercury
Writer: David Holman
1982
Big Cats, Big Coat
Writer: David Holman
1982
Billy the Kid
Writer: David Holman
1982
Peacemaker
Writer: David Holman
1982
Susumu's Story
Writer: David Holman
1982
1983
Writer: David Holman
1982
Red Letter Days
Writer: Geoff Bullen
1982
Bunkers
Writer: Jamal Ali
1983
Year One (ABC)
Writer: David Holman
1983
Puzzles
Writer: David Holman
1983
Inside Out
Writer: Lisa Evans
1983
Under Exposure
Writer: Lisa Evans
1984
The Zulu Hut Club
Writer: Bryony Lavery
1984
Consequences
Writer: Lisa Evans
1984
Winners
Writer: Yasmin Judd
1984
Hidden Meanings
Writer: Tony Coult
1984
The Mrs Docherties
Writer: Nona Shepphard
1984
Face Values
Writer: Lisa Evans
1985
Over and Out
Writer: Bryony Lavery
1985
Getting Through
Writer: Nona Shepphard
1985
Laughter From the Other Side
Writer: Noel Greig
1986
Stamping, Shouting and Singing
Writer: Lisa Evans
1986
Rip in the World
Writer: Colm O'Clunhain
1987
The Fantastic Forgotten Voyage
Writer: Lin Coghlan
1987
Whispers in the Dark
Writer: Noel Greig
1987
Pinchdice
Writer: Julie Wilkinson
1987
Broken Armour
Writer: Noel Greig
1988
Sack of Lies
Writer: Julie Wilkinson
1988
The Marx Brothers Go East
Writer: Sue Frumin
1988
Familiar Feelings
Writer: Noel Greig, Kate Owen, Philip Tyler
1988
A Feeling in My Bones
Writer: Lin Coghlan
1988
Spreading Our Wings
Writer: Sandra Yaw
1989
Just My Luck
Writer: Adjoa Andoh
1989
Two Marias
Writer: Bryony Lavery
1990
A Foreign Correspondence
Writer: Tash Fairbanks, Libby Mason, Women's Company
1990

Interviewee reference: David JohnstonLibby Mason, Noel Greig, Bryony Lavery and Tony Coult.

Links: see Theatre Centre‘s current website

Existing archive material: Theatre Centre, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance

Current status:
Theatre Centre is a professional theatre company that commissions new writing and tours to schools and venues across the UK. Collaborating with artists and teachers, Theatre Centre produces high quality theatre experiences for young audiences and young theatremakers. Theatre Centre also administrates the Brian Way Award for the best new play, the Adrienne Benham Award and the Dorothy L Sayers Award. In 2012, Theatre Centre launched Skylines, a professional development programme for writers. In 2013, Theatre Centre celebrated its 60th anniversary with a programme of events including Write Lines: New Writing for Young Audiences Conference on June 20th and a celebration event at Rich Mix, London in November. Roy Williams wrote a new play for Theatre Centre Advice for the Young at Heart which premiered in Autumn 2013.

Bibliography:
Theatre for the Young by Alan England (Macmillan Education Ltd, 1990)
Theatre Centre: Plays for Young People – Celebrating 50 Years of Theatre Centre: 2 by Benjamin Zephaniah, Anna Reynolds, Anna Furse and Roy Williams (Aurora Metro, 2003)
Working with Theatre in Schools by Clive Webster (Pitman, 1975)
Whiteghosts by Tony Coult in Dramascripts (Macmillan Ltd, 1987)

Acknowledgements: This web page was constructed by Annette Kennerley (Unfinished Histories) with the help of David Johnston (Theatre Centre Artistic Director 1977-1986), Libby Mason (Theatre Centre Artistic Director 1986-1992), Bryony Lavery (Theatre Centre writer), Nona Shepphard (Theatre Centre writer/director), Tony Coult (Theatre Centre writer) and Alan Ward (Theatre Centre Marketing Manager since 2013). November 2012

The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.