Birmingham Repertory Theatre celebrated its 100th birthday last month and with Heritage Lottery Fund support has produced a website and other activities to commemorate this event. The REP100 project is overseeing this work and one of the tasks is looking at The Rep collections held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage (MS 978 and MS 2339). This is why I have been selecting items for digitisation and also cataloguing unlisted material to reveal in more depth what records exist so they can tell the story of The Rep.
Some of this material is on display at the current exhibition and back stage tour at The Rep’s former building in Station Street (the ‘Old Rep’), and ranges from programmes, photographs and correspondence, to posters, leaflets, scripts, newspaper articles and designs. The set and costume designs are looked at more closely in one of the project themes ‘The Detail’s In The Design’. The Rep’s founder Sir Barry Jackson studied as an architect and also had a talent for design, producing many for early Rep productions. He also managed to attract skilled designers to work for The Rep and one of these was Paul Shelving.
Shelving started work for The Rep in 1919 and was there until 1961. He was involved in over 200 Rep productions and also worked on over 100 productions at The Malvern Festival, Stratford and London. His designs were integral to many of the Rep’s successes, including modern dress performances of Shakespeare plays such as ‘Cymbeline’ in 1923 and ‘Hamlet’ in 1925. As well as costume and set designs for The Rep, Shelving also designed The Rep’s logo that was used from the late 1920s until the 1970s, the logo for The Malvern Festival, and even a china tea set produced by Royal Worcester in 1934.
His work was celebrated in an exhibition held at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) in 1986 and many items used were from the Rep archives, which also include the catalogue for that exhibition. The REP100 project is also noting other locations of Rep archive material, including BMAG, and the Mander & Mitchenson theatre collection now at the University of Bristol, which has Shelving designs and other records. The Rep’s archives also include a 1993 catalogue list of these and microfiche copies of the designs themselves.
The process of selecting items for digitisation is still continuing but over 1000 are already available on the REP100 website, including some of Shelving’s work. Images of Shelving and his designs are also in the just published centenary brochure The REP100 – A century of dramatic history, which is available from The Rep for £8.
Another exhibition will be held in September 2013 after the re-opening of The Rep in Broad Street next to the new Library of Birmingham, and other features of the 100th birthday celebrations include talks and events on the building of The Old Rep, the design of The New Rep, and the other project themes ‘Station Street to Stratford via Malvern’, ‘Drama Queens’ and ‘Hidden Histories’. Volunteers have been heavily involved in the project and they will continue after it has finished by helping with The Rep’s regular transfer of material to Archives & Heritage.
Gary Collins, REP100 Archivist