English Stage Company/Royal Court Theatre Archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The original working order of the archive has been maintained where appropriate. The archive has been divided into 11 sub-fonds:

  • THM/273/1 Company management records
  • THM/273/2 Financial records
  • THM/273/3 Legal records
  • THM/273/4 Artisitic management records
  • THM/273/5 Literary department records
  • THM/273/6 Photographs
  • THM/273/7 Press and marketing records
  • THM/273/8 Grants and fundraising records
  • THM/273/9 Buildings and estate records
  • THM/273/10 Sound recordings
  • THM/273/11 Ephemera Material

The archive consists of the administrative and artistic management papers of the English Stage Company from its formation in 1954 to 2007, however it is by no means complete and records from the late 1990's onwards are not as detailed as one would wish them to be. The main core of the archive consists of the papers of the Council and various management committees; company and production accounts; correspondence of the artistic directors and literary managers; production photographs and stage plans; press cuttings; and crucially, the production management files.

Administrative / Biographical History

The English Stage Company (ESC) is the resident company of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, London. The company and its work is the result of two disparate groups eventually uniting in a common cause. In 1953, directors George Devine and Tony Richardson devised a scheme to present 'the whole range of contemporary drama' in London with a small permanent company. Inspired by the work of Harley Granville Barker and John Eugene Vedrenne (who produced new plays by Shaw and Barker alongside the work of Ibsen, Hauptmann, Yeats and others at the Royal Court Theatre between 1904 and 1908), Devine hoped to lease the theatre, newly acquired by Alfred Esdaile, a former music-hall performer. Devine's 'Royal Court scheme' consisted of three main strands, the presentation of European modernism, revivals of classics and new plays, and armed with this he approached the Arts Council of Great Britain, the John Lewis Partnership, Selfridges and a number of other organisations and individuals in an attempt to raise the funds to lease the theatre. He was unsuccessful and continued to work as a freelance actor and director for the next few years.

Also in 1953, verse dramatist Ronald Duncan and his friends Lord Harewood and Edward Blacksell created the Taw and Torridge Festival of the Arts which aimed to present European, experimental and verse drama (including Duncan's own plays). From there Duncan began corresponding with Esdaile's general manager Oscar Lewenstein about a London venue for experimental work and the establishment of a company to produce it. The English Stage Society was formed in 1954 and became the English Stage Company soon afterwards in response to objections about the proximity of their first name to the Stage Society. The ESC formed a governing Council of 'stable, respected men in whom the Arts Council tends to place confidence', including Esdaile, Greville Poke, Sir Reginald Kennedy-Cox, Lord Bessborough and Neville Blond a powerful and influential businessman who guided the theatre through many of its subsequent financial hardships. Oscar Lewenstein, also on the ESC Council, suggested Devine should be approached to be the Artistic Director and thus began one of the most unlikely combinations in theatre history. In February 1956, having considered a number of other theatres, the company bought the lease of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square from Esdaile and the company has been synonymous with the Royal Court ever since.

In March 1956, Devine and Associate Director Tony Richardson announced their first season in The Stage and declared their intention to 'provide the modern playwright with the stage he so urgently needs'. The company's reputation as a writer's theatre was established by the third show of the first season, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger. In 1957, the company introduced Sunday night productions without décor (a forerunner of the rehearsed reading or play workshop) which provided writers, directors and actors with further opportunities to work on new plays. Directors John Dexter, Lindsay Anderson, William Gaskill and Anthony Page all came to the ESC by this route. In 1963 the lease on the upstairs rooms, run as a restaurant and bar by Clement Freud, expired and the company began to explore how it could make use of the space. In 1968, the company began club performances of an 'experimental' nature in the rooms vacated by Freud, and after running a broad spectrum of performance events, were granted funds by the Arts Council of Great Britain to turn the space into a public auditorium. The Theatre Upstairs opened in 1969. In providing a smaller space, the ESC was able to increase its output, provide space for new and experimental work and operate an in-house transfer system whereby successful plays produced Upstairs could be given a longer run and bigger box office downstairs.

In 1996, the English Stage Company re-located to the West End to allow a complete refurbishment of the Royal Court by architects Haworth Tompkins. Under the artistic leadership of Stephen Daldry, the company embarked on an ambitious programme, taking over the Duke of York's Theatre for Downstairs shows and turning the Ambassadors Theatre into a smaller more intimate venue for Upstairs work. This coincided with the company's position in the vanguard of a new, experiential form of theatre dubbed 'in-yer-face' and memorably saw Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking, playing at the Theatre Upstairs at the Ambassadors, being advertised as Shopping and Fucking outside the theatre and across the West End. The company returned to the newly refurbished Royal Court in February 2000.

The English Stage Company is one of the UK's most important new writing institutions, developing and premiering works by John Arden, Edward Bond, Jez Butterworth, Caryl Churchill, Martin Crimp, Andrea Dunbar, Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Sarah Kane, and Mark Ravenhill, and running the Royal Court Young Writers Programme since 1998 (before that there was a Young People's Theatre Scheme). Alongside its work in new writing, the ESC has championed international work, from the first French and English productions of Beckett's Endgame and Athol Fugard's The Island and Sizwe Bansi is Dead through to its pioneering International Summer School programme begun in 1989. Although primarily a 'writers' theatre', the ESC has also been associated with some of the most influential theatre directors of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century: Lindsay Anderson, Max Stafford Clark, Stephen Daldry, William Gaskill, Peter Gill, and Ian Rickson.

Arrangement

The original working order of the archive has been maintained where appropriate. The archive has been divided into 11 sub-fonds:

  • THM/273/1 Company management records
  • THM/273/2 Financial records
  • THM/273/3 Legal records
  • THM/273/4 Artisitic management records
  • THM/273/5 Literary department records
  • THM/273/6 Photographs
  • THM/273/7 Press and marketing records
  • THM/273/8 Grants and fundraising records
  • THM/273/9 Buildings and estate records
  • THM/273/10 Sound recordings
  • THM/273/11 Ephemera Material

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

Gifts of the English Stage Company Sept 1981, Jan 1988, and Apr 2004.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Custodial History

Part of the archive was originally loaned by the English Stage Company to the British Theatre Museum Association in the 1960's and accruals were regularly added to it. When the British Theatre Museum Association disbanded the V&A's Department of Theatre & Performance was gifted the archive by the English Stage Company in 1988, there have been further accruals since this time. Photographs and publicity material generated by the English Stage Company were gifted to the V&A's Department of Theatre Performance in 1981.

The Archive was catalogued with the generous support of The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and The Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Accruals

The archive is an ongoing deposit.

Related Material

Promptbooks, typescripts and playtexts for productions at the Royal Court have been removed from the archive and housed in the Department of Theatre & Performance's library, they are available via the library catalogue: http://catalogue.nal.vam.ac.uk/

The following files and archive collections relating to the English Stage Company (Royal Court Theatre) are also held by the V&A's Department of Theatre & Performance:

V&A Theatre & Performance Building file: Royal Court Theatre, contains photographs, press cuttings, histories etc relating to the building.

V&A Theatre & Performance Company file: English Stage Company, contains press cuttlings and celebratory brochures relating to the company.

V&A Theatre & Performance Production file: Royal Court, contains programmes, flyers and reviews.

Anthony Crickmay (THM/111) (1961-1987), Theatre Photographer.

Richard Findlater Archive, (THM/162) [1911-1981] . Includes research material amassed for the book At the Royal Court: 25 years of the English Stage Company.

Oscar Lewenstein Archive, (THM/255) [194-]-[197-] . Oscar Lewenstein was a founder member of the English Stage Company and served as both chairman (1971-1973) and artistic director (1973-1975). His production company was associated with several productions at the Royal Court Theatre.

Douglas Jeffery Archive, (THM/374), [195-]-[200-] Theatre Photographer.

Arts Council of Great Britain Archive, inparticular ACGB/34/41 London: Royal Court Theatre/English Stage Company, 1952-1995

AV Resources

Recordings of Royal Court productions (including transfers) filmed for the National Video Archive of Performance are available via the library catalogue: http://catalogue.nal.vam.ac.uk/

Other recordings held by the V&A's Department of Theatre & Performance relating to the English Stage Company include:

Lindsay Anderson, The Late Show, reference number 004065.

A Celebration of the life and work of Lindsay Anderson, 1923-1992, Royal Court Theatre, 20/11/1994, reference number 9904082.

Autumn Talks, featuring Max Stafford Clark, Stephen Daldry, Mark Ravenhill, reference number 9600381/M.

Stephen Daldry interview on London Stage 1995, reference number 9704069.

Look Back in Anger, with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, reference number 024053.

Omnibus: Royal Court Diaries, reference number 994028.

Archive collections relating to the English Stage Company (Royal Court Theatre) held in other repositories:

Lindsay Anderson collection (1910-1994), University of Stirling.

Correspondence between the English Stage Company and the Lord Chamberlain's Office (1955-59), Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Personal papers of William Gaskill (1892-2001), University of Leeds.

Jocelyn Herbert Archive, University of the Arts London.

Max Stafford Clark's diaries (1974-98), The British Library.

Bibliography

Findlater, Richard, ed. At the Royal Court: 25 years of the English Stage Company. Derbyshire: Amber Lane Press Limited, 1981. 201p., ill.

Little, Ruth and McLaughlin Emily. The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out. Oneron Books Ltd, 2007. 479p., ill.

Roberts, Philip. The Royal Court Theatre and the Modern Stage. Cambridge University Press, 1999. 291p.

Corporate Names