All The World’s A (Smaller) Stage

Photograph of the company in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of 'Mary Barnes' by David Edgar, 1978. Ref: MS 2339.

Photograph of the company in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of ‘Mary Barnes’ by David Edgar, 1978. Ref: MS 2339.

As Birmingham Repertory Theatre moves back into its Broad Street home after its refurbishment it is looking forward to working on its own stage again.

When The Rep first moved into its then new building in 1971 it was able to make use of a much larger stage. But thoughts soon turned to smaller productions as The Rep wanted to continue its founder Sir Barry Jackson’s belief that it should produce experimental work or plays by new writers. This often required a smaller stage and theatre space so in October 1972 The Studio was opened.

Photograph of Judy Dench with James Larkin rehearsing 'Much Ado, 198. Ref: MS 2339.

Photograph of Judy Dench with James Larkin rehearsing ‘Much Ado’ about Nothing, 1988. Ref: MS 2339.

The Rep collections at Birmingham Archives & Heritage help to explain the story of The Studio. It was originally designed and used as a rehearsal room but was sound-proofed so that productions could be held there at the same time as performances on the main stage. It was also equipped with sound, lighting, and seating. The work was completed in the summer of 1972 and the first performance was ‘Grab’, directed by newly appointed Studio Director Christopher Honer and based on improvisations.

The Studio (or Brum Studio as it was sometimes called) also hosted workshops, late night folk evenings and poetry readings. The target audience at first was youngsters and The Rep had already put together two initiatives for younger audiences with its Theatre 67 and Theatre 71 clubs.

Photograph of the 1972 Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of 'Grab'. Ref: MS 2339.

Photograph of the 1972 Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of ‘Grab’. Ref: MS 2339.

The Studio also hosted many community based events and world premieres including works by local playwright David Edgar such as ‘Events Following the Closure of a Motorcycle Factory’ (February 1976) and ‘Mary Barnes’ (August 1978). Other notable Studio performances include the Renaissance Theatre Company’s ‘Renaissance Shakespeare On The Road’ 1988 tour productions of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (directed by Judi Dench), ‘As You Like It’ (directed by Geraldine McEwan) and ‘Hamlet’ (with Kenneth Branagh in the lead role).

The Studio was redeveloped in 1998 and got a new name – The Door.

The move back to Broad Street and shared facilities with the new Library of Birmingham will also give the use of a new 300 seat larger studio theatre which will give The Rep more scope for putting on plays, as one of the problems was the main stage auditorium being too large and the old Studio/Door being too small for many plays that The Rep would have liked to produce or host. The existing 140 seat Studio/Door will become a space for educational activities but will still be able to present shows if required.

photograph (left to right) of Kenneth Branagh and James Larkin rehearsing 'Much Ado About Nothing' by William Shakespeare directed by Judy Dench, 1988. MS 2339.

Photograph (left to right) of Kenneth Branagh and James Larkin rehearsing ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ by William Shakespeare directed by Judy Dench, 1988. Ref: MS 2339.

Continuing The Rep’s ethos the first production in the new studio will be the world première of ‘The Legend of Mike Smith’ written by and starring the Birmingham born musician Soweto Kinch.

Gary Collins, REP100 Project Archivist

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2 responses to “All The World’s A (Smaller) Stage

  1. I used to enjoy the performances of ‘Shared Experience’ in the Studio, have you any further information on these productions?

    • Thank you for your enquiry. The Rep Theatre collection does include material such as posters and programmes relating to performances by ‘Shared Experience’ but this collection is currently being catalogued as part of the Rep100 project (see http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/rep100/) to celebrate the theatre’s centenary. For further information, please contact or visit us in our searchroom in the Library of Birmingham after it opens in September to see the completed catalogue.

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