Unity Theatre, theatre company: records

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The records of the management and administration of Unity Theatre Company and of the management and marketing of individual productions, including photographs and press cuttings.

Administrative / Biographical History

Unity Theatre was founded on 5 January 1936 by a general meeting of the Rebel Players and Red Radio, left-wing theatre groups derived from the Workers' Theatre Movement. WTM had been founded in the 1920s under the influence of the artistic movements arising from the Russian Revolution. Unity began as Unity Theatre Club, an amateur theatre group as a way of avoiding censorship by the Lord Chamberlain.

A self-converted hall at Britannia Street was used from 1936 until 1937. In order to be able to expand their range of activities a new hall was converted in Goldington Street, which opened in November 1937. In 1938 Paul Robeson turned down several West End roles to appear in Plant in the Sun for free, as all Unity's actors did at that time. From 1946 Unity also put on various touring shows by the Mobile group, including those featuring the Amazons, a women's company.

Unity became a professional company in 1946 but reverted back to being an amateur group in 1947. At this time they also established other Unity groups in other UK cities including Glasgow and Merseyside. They staged the world premieres of plays by Sean O'Casey and Arthur Adamov and British premieres of plays by Jean-Paul Sartre, Maxim Gorky and Bertolt Brecht. They also specialised in traditional entertainment forms such as Music Hall shows. Unity's theatre burnt down on 8 November 1975, putting a temporary end to activities.

There was a revival in the 1980s and 1990s with political plays such as Major Minor and Red Roses for Me. The final Unity production was in 1994.

Arrangement

These records have been arranged chronologically in the following sub-fonds:

  • THM/9/1 - Company management records
  • THM/9/2 - Artistic Management records
  • THM/9/3 - Finance and Membership records
  • THM/9/4 - Press and Marketing records
  • THM/9/5 - Photographs
  • THM/9/6 - Related Organisations records
  • THM/9/7 - Promptbooks and scripts

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Gift of the Unity Theatre Trust, 1995.

Other Finding Aids

The archive has previously been partially catalogued and these superseded references may have been used by researchers. For reference, a copy of this catalogue can be found in the archive (THM/9/1/3/10).

Separated Material

Programmes and flyers have been removed and transferred to the V&A Theatre and Performance Core Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Custodial History

Following the initial Gift in 1995, the archive was delivered to the V&A in batches from the various individuals who had taken responsibility for its safeguarding, principally Clive Gehle but also Mike Harwood and Delysia Price.

Accruals

No further accurals to this archive are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to Unity Theatre may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

See also, Unity Theatre records, 1931-1960 at the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University. Also, Unity Theatre collection, 1930s-1976 at Labour History Archive and Study Centre at the People's History Museum at the University of Central Lancashire. Also, the Archive of Alec Baron (1913-1991) for material on Leeds Unity held at the Library of the University of Leeds. Also, the Records of Glasgow Unity Theatre 1941-1967 held in Special Collections at Glasgow University Library.

Please ask for details.

Location of Originals

A number of items from the Unity Theatre Archive have been separated and added to the V&A's museum collection. The items can be accessed through Search the Collections http://collections.vam.ac.uk/.

17 set designs by Ern Brooks for a production of The Big Win, for the Unity Theatre, first performed on 4 Mar 1960. [Museum reference numbers: S.41-2011 to S.57-2011]

1 poster for We Fight On, a Unity Theatre production at the Scala Theatre, London, on 27 Feb, year unidentified. [Museum reference number: S.58-2011]

8 papier-mache masks for an unknown production at the Unity Theatre. Possibly made by Barbara Niven, c. mid 20th century. [Museum reference numbers: S.69-2011 to S.76[1-6=5]-2011

Bibliography

Chambers, Colin. The Story of Unity Theatre. London: Lawrence and Wishart Ltd, 1989. 446 p., ill. ISBN 0853155879.