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Centenary Campaign: our history, on stage

25 November 2014

Shakespeare famously said, ‘All the world’s a stage’. And thanks to the generosity of donors to Bristol’s Centenary Campaign, students, staff and academics at the University will have access to our Theatre Collection – the world’s second biggest British theatre history archive – for generations to come.

Theatre is one of the oldest forms of human expression – a dramatic reflection of society, economy and culture through the ages. Bristol’s Theatre Collection was founded in 1951, and is now a fully accredited, world-renowned resource, used by students and theatre scholars around the world.

In 2010, thanks to the support of donors, Bristol was able to provide a permanent home to the Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection (M&M), a vast array of artwork, recordings, props, photographs, costumes and ceramics that provide a comprehensive record of British professional theatre.

The collection is the lifetime’s work of Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, actors whose theatrical connections gave them a privileged insight and access to the theatre world and includes 1,500 ‘reference boxes’ that cover every actor, director, producer, writer, composer and musician of note over the last 200 years. Forms of popular entertainment that have historically often been neglected are documented in the collection too – for example, circus acts, puppets, magic and comedy.

Donations to the Centenary Campaign and gifts from Friends of the Theatre Collection have helped pay for exhibits and display cases, as well as the conservation of items in a space where light, humidity and temperature are controlled.

Among the Theatre Collection’s many treasures are a drawing for a preliminary model of the Globe Playhouse by William Poel (used by architects to recreate the Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank in the 1990s), a copy of the Act of Parliament that licensed the Bristol Old Vic, and an original script of Tess of the d’Urbervilles thought to be annotated by Thomas Hardy.

Today, the collection continues to grow. Just last month, Bristol took possession of the archive of Theatre Roundabout, a company that originally specialised in religious theatre before becoming a genre-breaking touring company in the 1960s. An exhibition of Theatre Roundabout: Travelling by Stages is currently on display at the Theatre Collection, until the end of March 2015.

All donations Bristol receives before the close of the Centenary Campaign at the end of December 2014 will have a real impact on the development of arts facilities, study resources and research at the University. To find out more, or to make a gift, please visit bristol.ac.uk/centenarycampaign.