The Old Rep in October 2010
|Address||Station Street, B5 4DY|
|Owner||Birmingham City Council|
|Operator||Birmingham Ormiston Academy|
|Capacity||385 (including 2 wheelchair spaces)|
|Opened||15 February 1913|
|Architect||S. N. Cooke|
The Old Rep (originally Birmingham Repertory Theatre) is the United Kingdom's first ever purpose-built repertory theatre, constructed in 1913, located on Station Street in Birmingham, England. The theatre was a permanent home for Barry Jackson's increasingly well established amateur theatre group, The Pilgrim Players, later known as Birmingham Repertory Company. Barry Jackson funded the construction of the theatre and established his professional company there.
Architecht S. N. Cooke, a colleague from the Birmingham School of Art collaborated with Barry Jackson in the creation of the theatre. Both Jackson and Cooke took inspiration from the democratic nature of theatres they had visited in Germany. The design of The Old Rep was particularly influenced by Max Littmann's 1908 Künstlertheater in Munich.
In 2014, Birmingham Ormiston Academy, also known as BOA, successfully tendered for The Old Rep Theatre.
The theatre is situated just opposite New Street Station, from which a blue plaque, above the theatre's first floor windows, to Barry Jackson can be seen. Two doors down is Britain's oldest working cinema, the Electric Cinema.
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Construction on the venue began in October 1912 and continued day and night for four months. The Grade II listed building has been well-preserved and still retains many of its original features.
The theatre opened its doors on 15 February 1913 with a performance of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, preceded by a reading from Barry Jackson, of the poem The Mighty Line by resident playwright John Drinkwater (playwright). The company began what would become more than a century of history with a vision led by Jackson that theatre should "serve as art instead of making that art serve a commercial purpose." With a wealth of local talent, the theatre produced a rolling bill of plays, both classic texts and new writing.
In 1917, the Birmingham Repertory Company became a pioneer in the theatre industry by becoming the first UK venue to appoint a female stage manager, Maud Gill. She left a fascinating and entertaining account of her experiences in her autobiography 'See the Players'. She was told that "a woman ought not to be put in charge of stagehands because "working men" would not take orders from her, but she decided that, since mothers has been keeping order in the home since the beginning of time, the way to go about it was to treat them as a mother would treat her family. It worked."
In 1923, Barry Jackson received a gold medal from the Birmingham Civic Society which was shortly followed by a knighthood in 1925 for his services to the theatre. Sir Barry Jackson's significant role in the Birmingham's arts scene was to be recognised once again in 1955 when he was awarded the freedom of the city.
The theatre were awarded their first Arts Council England grant in 1954 worth £3,000 which now equates to £77,000. Shortly after in 1960, Barry Jackson met with Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England to guarantee the funding to build a new arts venue. This was eventually agreed in 1968, and plans for the new Rep began to take place.
In 1971 they moved to a newly built theatre on Broad Street, now known as Birmingham Repertory Theatre, with The Old Rep taken into ownership by Birmingham City Council. However, this wasn't the last time the company would be based at Station Street, returning to The Old Rep between 2011 and 2013 while the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Library of Birmingham underwent redevelopment. The company celebrated their centenary year at their original home with a programme of performances, tours and creative activities for the people of Birmingham.
The Old Rep has played a central role in the early careers of many of the UK's most celebrated actors and theatre-makers. Here are a few of those notable names, who have all performed at The Old Rep.
- Laurence Olivier
- Paul Schofield
- Performed in Shakespeare's Hamlet in 1942, as part of the Rep Travelling Company. Whilst performing as Toad in Toad of Toad Hall (1944). He met Peter Brook and they went on to have a lifelong collaboration. In a 2004 Royal Shakespeare Company poll stated that his performance in William Shakespeare's King Lear was the best ever.
- Peter Brook
- Michael Gambon
- Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies
- Jane Freeman (actress)
- Peggy Ashcroft
- Derek Jacobi
- Brian Cox (actor)
- Edith Evans
- Ralph Richardson
- Albert Finney
- June Brown
- John Gielgud
- Richard Chamberlain
- Julie Christie
- Appeared in the Christmas Revue Between These Four Walls in 1963.
- Toyah Willcox
- Trewin, J C (1963). The Birmingham Repertory Theatre 1913–1963. London: Barrie & Rockliff. pp. 16–17.
- "Old Rep". Theatres Database. The Theatres Trust. Retrieved 8 January 2014.
- "Letters: the late Rita Hunter and the late Peggy Dear". The Guardian. 7 May 2001. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
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