Collection of Osiris Players and Nancy Hewins materials

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists of materials relating to the work of the Osiris Players all-female touring company (including promotional, production, legal and administrative, touring, and performer-related materials and ephemera, c.1920s-1970s), the life and professional career of its leader Nancy Hewins (including photographs, correspondence and collected personal ephemera, c.1920s-1970s) and research materials collected for a dissertation on the Osiris Players by Barbara Baker, a former Osiris performer (including correspondence with other former Osiris performers, personal materials from her time touring with Osiris and a copy of the finished dissertation, c.1920s-1980s).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Osiris Players (or the Osiris Repertory Company as they were also known) were Britain's first all-female professional theatre company who operated with the aim of introducing theatre - particularly the works of Shakespeare - to schools and audiences at improvised venues nationwide who may not otherwise have had access to live theatre at accessible prices. Started in 1924 by Nancy Hewins, they specialised in regional touring and were active until 1963.

Born in 1902 in London, (Margaret) Nancy Hewins developed an interest in the theatre - lighting and set design in particular - whilst studying at Oxford University. After graduating she started an amateur theatre company called the Isis Players in 1924. Becoming a professional company in 1927, they changed their name to the Osiris Players, with their first production as a professional outfit being The Merchant of Venice.

Osiris survived on proceeds from ticket sales and was never publicly funded. Hewins would supplement early Osiris funds by working as a lighting designer and director, particularly in large-scale pageants.

As a rule they were always all-female, and never had more than seven members in the troupe. As a travelling company members were expected to take care of necessary domestic duties (washing, cooking) as well as the dramatic (acting, props, make-up) and were paid a weekly allowance. The company would travel in two Rolls-Roycecars, getting through seven in the company's lifetime as Nancy Hewins maintained that they were the only cars suitable. They would improvise sleeping arrangements, often bedding down in school halls or barns to save on costs. Few members lasted more than a few years. During World War II, Osiris put on 1,534 (mostly Shakespeare) plays, often travelling with a horse and dray due to petrol restrictions.

The Company was disbanded by former Osiris performer Wynne Griffiths after Hewins' death in1978.

Arrangement

This collection has been organised into the following series:

  • THM/302/1 - Osiris Players company materials
  • THM/302/2 - Nancy Hewins materials
  • THM/302/3 - Barbara Baker personal materials
  • THM/302/4 - Barbara Baker dissertation and essay
  • THM/302/5 - Barbara Baker dissertation materials

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 estate of Nancy Hewins, 1996.

Separated Material

The following play-text typescripts have been removed from this collection and have been added to our library collections:

  • An incomplete script of a version of Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus with a partial typewritten text, and part of Oedipus' lines with cues. Contains some alterations. Undated. (PLAYS SOP / Prompt).
  • An adapted scene from Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit, marked for the part of Osiris member Betsey Prig. Also includes p.9 of another unidentified play. Undated. (PLAYS DIC / Prompt).
  • Prompt-book of printed text of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, marked wth cuts, cues and a few directions. Include's Anthony's speech in manuscript and typed cast lists. Undated. (PLAYS SHA / Prompt).
  • Manuscript copy of Duel between wiskered Villain and handsome Hero, for no particular reason other than they just didn't like each others faces, by Margaret Rubel. Includes a fight plan and ends as a personal letter signed Maria which refers to the productions of the Osiris Players and members of the company. Undated. (PLAYS RUB / Prompt).

Conditions Governing Use

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

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

Custodial History

These materials were donated to the V&A Theatre and Performance department by the Estate of Nancy Hewins. It is not known who collected the materials, or whether the collection as a whole is an amalgam of the smaller collections of a number of former Osiris members. One tranche of the collection refers specifically to Barbara Baker (a former Osiris member 1948-1952) and her work and research towards an undergraduate dissertation on the Osiris Players.

Accruals

No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to the Osiris Players and Nancy Hewins may be found in several collections, including the biographical and productions files and the library collections. Specifically, a manuscript of Nancy Hewins' unpublished autobiography Well, Why Not? (PN 3168.G7) and an excerpt of the autobiography of former Osiris member Mary-Rose Benton, Family Values (PN 2598.B468) may both be found in the library collections.

Please ask for details.

Corporate Names