Colin Chambers Collection of Unity Theatre material

Scope and Content

This small collection complements the Unity Theatre archive (THM/9). The material was collected by Colin Chambers during the process of his research for a publication about Unity Theatre. The collection contains: lyrics, music and songbooks used in Unity Theatre productions; ephemera dating from the 1930s, including a membership form for Unity and for the UK Groups Theatre; typed notes of meetings; a box office plan, photos and leaflets; press cuttings; correspondences relating to the Labour Stage - a theatre school set up by Unity members in the late 1930s; material gathered for a film on Unity and once owned by the actor John Bluthal.

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 Nov 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.

Colin Chambers is a professor in Performance and Screen Studies at Kingston University London. He has worked as a journalist, including time spent as a theatre critic, and serving as Literary Manager of the Royal Shakespeare Company for nearly two decades.

As well as writing theatre histories and biographies, he has written, translated and adapted plays including the three Figaro plays by Beaumarchais; Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists; David Pinski’s Treasure; and The Mad World of John Maddison Morton, three farces that were produced at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond in 2011.

Access Information

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:

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

Acquisition Information

Colin Chambers, gift, 2015.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with collection management policy.

Custodial History

Material collected by Colin Chambers in preparation for his publication about Unity Theatre.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

THM/9 - Unity Theatre , theatre company: records

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

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.