Northcott Theatre

#LoveTheatreDay 2018

It’s Love Theatre Day and what better way to celebrate than delving into the Northcott Theatre archives…

In December 2007 the Northcott was about to re-open after a 2.1 million pound refurbishment when it was hit with a blow out of the blue: the Arts Council had recommended that it’s £547,000 funding package be withdrawn. Without this money the Northcott faced potentially having to close it’s doors not long after re-opening them.

 

In reaction to the news the theatre staff, local politicians, community groups, schools and the residents of Exeter and it’s surrounding towns mounted a ‘Save the Northcott’ campaign to show how much they loved their theatre and to persuade the Arts Council to reverse it’s decision. The records from the campaign are a poignant display of the theatre’s loyal audience: petitions comprising a total of more than 17,000 names were collected, along with hundreds of letters and emails written in support of the theatre. Theatre-goers from all over Devon, and many from further abroad, voiced their personal connections to the theatre, their support for it’s writing and acting talent, and their worry that one of the few professional theatres in Devon would be lost.

 

Living in Newtown Ward myself, I was particularly pleased to see a letter from Richard Branston, councillor for Newtown ward, to the chair of the Arts Council enclosing a petition which all but 12 of the ward’s residents had signed. A turnout of 99%. Local schools and community groups that worked with the theatre also collected their own petitions, with one group assembling a book in which 630 young children signed their names on stickers in support of the theatre. My favourite item in this part of the collection however, has to be a tree assembled out of leaves on which people have written what the Northcott means to them. A striking visual representation of the support for the theatre.

Though the Northcott Theatre has faced a number of challenges in it’s fifty years of productions it is clear from the collection that it has loyal supporters in it’s theatre-goers. Love Theatre Day is the perfect day to celebrate both the Northcott Theatre and those who love it; the theatre-goers of Devon.

 

 

 

A not so sticky situation: conserving press cutting albums from the Northcott Theatre

Halloween may be over but i’m in the middle of an Archivist’s nightmare. Along with the other treasures in the Northcott Theatre Archives are 13 wallpaper sample albums crammed full of press cuttings. These albums are not only unwieldy due to their size, but many of the volumes have also had the cuttings taped onto sheets of plain paper which have then been taped into the albums.

 

As many of you will know, any kind of adhesive tape is a poor choice for long term preservation. The adhesive from the tape has stained the cuttings leaving brown discolouration and over the years the tape has dried out and many of the cuttings have come loose from the albums. At it’s worst this degradation has left us with some albums where there is simply a pile of loose cuttings in the front and in other cases the movement of the cuttings has caused significant creasing and tearing.

Staining from old tape and adhesive

The majority of the albums are not in a fit condition to be handled as they are without causing more damage and so the decision has been made to remove the cuttings from the albums where they are already coming loose. Once removed the cuttings will be stored in the order they were in the album (if this is still discernible) and the albums will be retained separately. It sounds simple but it’s delicate work and rather time consuming. With five albums completed I have enough loose tape in my bin to remake several rolls.

Loose tape from one album

The cuttings are a fascinating read: containing reviews and general news relating to Northcott Theatre productions, arts funding and other west country theatres, particularly the Plymouth Theatre Royal. The albums themselves are also incredibly interesting, I feel like I have taken a journey through wallpaper history in the past weeks. I’ve even recognised wallpaper from my parents house – further proof, if any were needed, that it’s time for them to redecorate. The presence of the albums is still a little bit of a mystery though. Were they simply a useful receptacle for the cuttings that someone happened to have lying around (perhaps from a second job moonlighting as an interior designer), or were they perhaps used by the set designers? The range is vast; spanning William Morris designs to the bobble textured wallpaper of the 1980’s and the office has had great fun revisiting the wallpaper highs and lows of the past. Only 8 more to go….

 

There’s no archives like show archives: Introducing the Northcott Theatre Archive

EUL MS 348 – Programmes from the Northcott Theatre Archive

It’s new cataloguing project time here at Special Collections and I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be cataloguing the Northcott Theatre Archive as part of our 21st Century Libraries initiative. It’s a fascinating collection spanning from the theatre’s opening in 1967, to its threatened closure in 2010. Quite simply, everything about it is appealing (alright, I’ll stop with the show tunes now!).

Exeter has a long history of theatre; with evidence of a possible Roman amphitheatre on Dane’s Hill. In 1721 the first regular theatre venue in Exeter opened in the Seven Stars Inn and a series of theatres followed (often destroyed by fire) until the Theatre Royal opened in 1889. Many Exeter residents still remember this theatre, which was demolished in 1962, and a small amount of records survive in the Northcott Theatre Archive relating to its productions.

EUL MS 348 – Printing plate for Theatre Royal jubilee production of Mother Goose

After the demolition of the Theatre Royal, G.V. Northcott was offered a site at Exeter University and the Northcott Devon Theatre and Arts Centre, as it was originally known, was established. The theatre opened its first production on 2nd November 1967, presenting The Merchant of Venice, which starred the theatre’s first Artistic Director Tony Church. The abolition of the official censor in 1968 enabled a new artistic direction and early directors fostered new writing talent. Edward Bond’s controversial play ‘Bingo’ was performed in public for the first time at the Northcott under Artistic Director Jane Howell. The theatre also fostered acting talent and many famous actors performed there early in their careers: including Honor Blackman, Celia Imrie, Robert Lindsay, John Nettles, Diana Rigg, Imelda Staunton and David Suchet.

EUL MS 348 – Production photographs by year from the Northcott Theatre Archive

In recent years the theatre has faced the threat of closure twice, in 2008 and 2010, both sparking community campaigns to save the theatre. On 5 June 2010 a new company was set up as the Exeter Northcott Theatre Company, formed with the University of Exeter, and the immediate future of the theatre is now more secure, with its fiftieth anniversary celebrations taking place last year.

EUL MS 348 – Tree from a campaign to save the Northcott Theatre with leaves written by the public saying what the theatre means to them

The archive contains a wealth of records relating to the Northcott’s productions and administration. Show files, prompt books, administrative records, programmes, posters, photographs, press cuttings, and much more illustrate the work behind bringing a production to the stage and the changing trends in theatre going. The archive is a wonderful piece of South West theatre history and I look forward to sharing more gems with you as the project progresses.

Caroline Walter (Project Archivist)