Some celebrations

It may actually be slightly after Easter, but we’re only now coming to the end of our Spring term and winding down for the spring break. That means that we’ve spent this week enjoying all kinds of events to celebrate the hard work of students and staff since the beginning of 2015.

Students from the 'Women on Stage' groupTo start with, on Tuesday this year’s student curated exhibition on Victorian and Edwardian Theatre was launched. This module has been running for 5 years, with each year bringing new and exciting developments, and an excellent exhibition as the final piece of work (and this year was no exception)! Throughout the term, second year students have been working with the Theatre Collections here at Kent, and digital collections available elsewhere, whilst learning about theatre between 1860-1910. For the final assessment, the students work in groups, picking a topic of their choice to explore and then present their findings as an exhibition, with an associated website.

Choices of topic have always been diverse, and this year was no exception! Starting with the experience of theatregoing in the Victorian period, the exhibition moves through a comparison of East and West End theatre, the role of women on and off the stage and, finally, the ways in which the Jewish community were portrayed and potrayed themselves in the theatre.

The exhibition curators, with tutors Helen Brooks and Jane Gallagher.

The exhibition curators, with tutors Helen Brooks and Jane Gallagher.

This year, we have teamed up with the Gulbenkian who are hosting the exhibition in their Crossover Gallery, where it will run until 3 May. Do pop in to have a look – it’s free and open during the Gulbenkian’s opening hours.

View of the exhibition launchTuesday turned out to be rather a busy day, since we were also hosting student book launches all day in the reading room. This was part of the third year Book Project module, in which students create their own, original piece of writing an publish it as a physical item. The launch event is a chance for the students to read sections from their work (in front of a supportive audience) and to sell copies to guests. We’re currently in the process of ensuring that we have copies of all of these works in Special Collections, to complement the twentieth century small print press materials in the Modern First Editions Collection.

20150407_171146A huge congratulations to all of the students involved in both of these exciting pieces of work: we hope you enjoyed being a part of it!

And finally, talking of celebration, on Wednesday we got the chance to thank our hard working team of core volunteers with a trip to Canterbury 20150408_151203Cathedral Library, hosted by Cathedral Librarian Karen Brayshaw. Those who came along got to see rare and valuable books from the earliest years of the printing press through to the 19 century, including the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and a Bible translated into a Native American language. Alongside this, of course, we got to enjoy the ambiance of the historical library and its beautiful books – and several people enjoyed the smell of rare books!

So that’s it for another term – although we will, of course, be on hand throughout the spring vacation for all of your research needs. As ever, the arrival of the sunshine provokes a mass exodus to studying out in the sunshine, and the end of term leads to a pervading atmosphere of calm and wellbeing through the Library. I hope that you enjoy the break, if you get one: we’ll certainly be making the most of the hiaitus, prior to the start of our Big Underground Move of all of our collections now scheduled to take place from 15 June.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Gulbenkian Theatre opened on the Kent campus in 1969. In its forty five year history it has seen numerous productions, from Shakespeare to musical extravaganzas such as AC/DC and Steeleye Span. The tradition of Christmas performances, including productions aimed at children, runs strongly through the history of the theatre. A fine example of this genre is ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,’ staged in 1979, ten years after the Gulbenkian first opened its doors to the public.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ was put on by UKC Dramatics, adapted from the epic poem, and directed by Paul Hodson. Hodson is still hugely involved in theatre today, and is currently adapting ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby for a tour in 2015, having previously adapted works by Bill Bryson, and put on plays at the Edinburgh Fringe,  (more information on Hodson’s work can be found at

Play Poster

A variety of documents and ephemera relating to the ‘Sir Gawain’ 1979 performance can be found in the Gulbenkian collection. This includes posters, a theatre programme, stickers, local newspaper cuttings and a teacher’s booklet, provided by UKC Dramatics for local schools to study the story before seeing the play. In every item, one can see evidence of how the UKC Dramatics society was involved in every aspect of production, from acting to outreach to the local community.

It is interesting how, in a time when school trips to the theatre were not as common as they may be now, the University of Kent was working hard to have a positive effect on theatre in the local community, and fantastic to see just how successful they were. One unidentified newspaper cutting, dated October 12th 1979, is a small article concerning the production, informing the reader that ‘Paul [Hodson]…has contacted East Kent schools to encourage children to take part in his illustration scheme.’ An exhibition of local children’s artwork relating to the play was produced, and could be viewed in the Gulbenkian prior to each performance. Another cutting from the Kent Herald, dated December 11th observes that ‘the play has captured the children’s imagination, for all seven performances have sold out.’ This shows not just how successful the play was in terms of acting and production, but also how keen the local schools and the University of Kent were to work together. In fact, the play and the involvement of the local schools worked so well that two extra matinees had to be scheduled to fulfil demand.

Article from the Kent Herald featuring a picture of cast members with school children's artwork

Article from the Kent Herald featuring a picture of cast members with school children’s artwork


The item that shows UKC Dramatics dedication to outreach to the local schools most is the teacher’s information booklet. Produced by the director, the booklet firstly provides an abridged version of the old poem, complete with illustrations, that teachers could read to their classes. Following this is information on the background of the poem, and then a section containing a series of suggestions of projects that could be employed in school in the run up to seeing the show. The idea of putting on a small in-class production of the play is proffered, using the provided story as the play text. Art projects are also suggested, along with comparisons of different areas of the story, and a more in-depth look at the themes running through it. This booklet must have taken a long time to produce, and the amount of work that has gone into it shows Hodson’s dedication to the production, education, and the wish to have the local community as involved as possible.

Two illustrations from the teaching booklet, featuring Gawain and the Green Knight themselves

Two illustrations from the teaching booklet, featuring Gawain and the Green Knight themselves

Why are Christmas productions so popular? Obviously, as in this case, there is an element of people wanting to see a well-produced show, but be they Christmas plays such as this, winter themed ballets such as The Nutcracker, or a good old-fashioned panto, Christmas seems to be a time for special performances that everybody wants to see, including those who would not necessarily go to the theatre the whole year round. It seems a huge part of the appeal is that Christmas is generally recognised as a time to be with family, and productions such as this provide entertainment for all ages. As the Gazette, dated December 14th, observed about ‘Sir Gawain’ ‘children (and adults) loved it,’ referring to the whole audience ‘roaring our approval,’ and all ages finding the jokes hilarious.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ is just one of many student led productions that have graced the boards at the Gulbenkian Theatre. The items within all these collections show clearly the amount of effort students put in to produce such great shows, and are fascinating from the perspective of local and theatrical historians, or those wishing to put on such a production themselves. The Gulbenkian collection can be explored via the Special Collections and Archives website. It has yet to be completely catalogued, so look forward to more opportunities to learn about Kent’s past in the future.

To discover more in this collection go to the Gulbenkian Collection.

Rachel Dickinson.

Discover more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection

We are delighted to announce that the full collection of printed materials from the Reading-Rayner Theatre Collection is now available to discover in Special Collections & Archives.

The Reading Rayner collection is an expansive selection of items, largely consisting of theatrical material. This includes books pertaining to the history of theatre and film, biographies and memoirs, and play texts, as well as a large number of theatre programs spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. Alongside this is the Play Pictorial, a series of early theatre magazines, bound together, containing reviews and photographs from popular productions of the time, spanning the years 1902 – 1939, when the magazine was merged with Theatre World due to the paper rationing of the Second World War.

The collection is named after Jack Reading and his partner Colin Rayner, who began donating their material to the University of Kent in the 1980s. They initially started their collections separately, but brought them together to form one super-collection. Jack was a founding member, and later Secretary General, of the International Federation for Theatre Research, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Kent in 2000.

Personal ephemera often lay within the pages of many of the books themselves, undiscovered until we pulled back the pages to reveal personal hand written letters, travel documents and even a receipt for potato seeds!

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

Discovered by Josie

Having been a cataloguer of rare books and special collections at the University of Kent for around nineteen months, I have grown accustomed to handling books many centuries in age, with beautiful hand painted illustrations and delicate bindings that cover a diverse range of subjects.  I was initially struck by “The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre” due to the visually compelling front cover.  There are many books within the collection that offer an insight into all aspects of theatre and performance, many with generically designed book covers, but this screamed what it was all about from a distance.  Written by Laurence Senelick, director of Graduate Studies, Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University in Massachusetts, “The Changing Room” explores the history of cross-dressing in theatre from ancient times to the modern day, offering to take “readers on a colourful, lavishly illustrated tour of the stages and dressing-rooms of history, from tribal rituals to sacred prostitution, to contemporary musical comedy and performance art.”  I was impressed at this book’s ability to pull the attention of someone whose interest in theatre and performance is minimal and which has subsequently left me with a little bit of a thirst to find out more about the performing arts.

Our Discoveries (clockwise from left):  "Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version" ; The Changing Room:  sex, drag and theatre" ; "Macbeth" ; "The Merchant of Venice."

Our discoveries (clockwise from left): “Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version” ; The Changing Room: sex, drag and theatre” ; “Macbeth” ; “The Merchant of Venice.”

Discovered by Rachel

Of the items I catalogued, the oldest was from the first half of the 17th century, the smallest was a 7cm tall copy of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, (published in Venice, with accompanying Italian inscription from the buyer), and the most aesthetic, (in my opinion), was a copy of Macbeth with a hand decorated cover, complete with gold leaf. In terms of subject matter, the books I encountered varied from the traditional theatre of Shakespeare to 19th century burlesques (the precursor to pantomime rather than the exotic shows of today), to modern gay plays. One item that particularly stood out for me on a personal level was The Authorised Jesus Christ Superstar.

Musicals have been an interest of mine since I was about ten. I have seen Joseph, Evita, Cats and the Phantom of the Opera, and in 2012 I was at the O2 for the second performance of the Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. This book, never reprinted, records the development of the musical, from its conception by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, to the album and original Broadway production.

The book resembles an album of memories, following the first few years of Superstar’s life. Running continuously along the bottom of the pages are interviews with various people involved in the production, alongside a more in-depth interview with Lloyd Webber and Rice. There are plenty of photographs, predominantly black and white, but also several pages of colour plates of a higher quality, featuring images from the Broadway production, a facsimile of a highly decorative piece of sheet music for the title song and, bizarrely, a colour facsimile of “…And Through Him Save a World,” an issue of the Green Lantern magazine, featuring a modern messiah crucifixion scene. The book also contains facsimiles of posters and magazine covers, reviews and articles, letters from fans and cartoon strips. What I find hugely interesting however, is that it doesn’t just focus on the success of the production. It also considers the controversy that surrounded the show from the word go, featuring both positive and negative reactions from the religious community of the time, from the news that the Vatican was to broadcast the show in full, to letters informing the record company that they will have to pay for using the Lord’s name to make money.  This is a hugely intriguing book for any musical lover, theatre historian or person with an interest in religious culture. The sheer variety of material this book contains is sure to enthral the reader.

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

The cataloguing of the theatrical material is now complete, but the rest of the collection also contains fiction, poetry and rare books, yet to be discovered.

To explore all of this and more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection visit to search our catalogue or contact us for more information.

By Josie Caplehorne and Rachel Dickinson

Beyond the trenches

On 11 November 2014, Armistice Day, Special Collections & Archives was involved in an outreach event which explored the themes of the First World War through the theatre of the time, going beyond the trenches to discover how theatre can tell us more about the past. Starting off with the sources (as we always do), we then had a great opportunity to explore the theory and get to see some World War One plays of various kinds. This event was a new and exciting opportunity for us to talk to researchers, from school age to retirees, interested in all kinds of disciplines.

The event’s leader, Dr. Helen Brooks, tells us more:

“It is easy to get bogged down (excuse the pun) in the Battles of Trench Warfare, but now I see that plays of the time are an insight into the culture of the time, which to me is equally as important in understanding the reasoning behind the Great War. This new insight has opened up a whole new perspective”.

Lindsay Kennett, who wrote these words in an email to me last week, was just one of the 30 plus participants who took part in our public study day on First World War theatre, on Tuesday, 11 November at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. The aim of the day was to raise public awareness about how looking at theatre can shed new light on ideas about, and responses to the war: for Lindsay and the many other participants who echoed her sentiments in their feedback, it was clearly a great success.

SONY DSC Over the course of the day we got stuck into a diverse range of activities, all of which were facilitated ably by a team of fantastic student, and ex-student helpers from the Drama Department in the School of Arts – Rebecca O’Brien, Rebecca Sharp, Kinga Krol, and Charlotte Merrikin. Beginning with a brilliant workshop run by Jane Gallagher, from Special Collections at the Templeman, participants had a chance to get ‘hands on’ with sources from Special Collection’s archives (including newspaper clippings, scripts, programs and playbills) and to interrogate them in order to answer questions such as ‘how did the theatre “do its bit” for the war effort?’, SONY DSC‘what impact did the war have on the theatre industry?’, ‘in what different ways was the theme of war treated in performance?’, and ‘how did audiences change during the war?’. This last question then led us into Professor Viv Gardner’s (University of Manchester) stimulating talk about audiences during the war. Reminding us that audiences were made up of diverse groups and that their responses changed depending on the context of the performance, Viv also drew on some moving stories about individual spectators which brought to life the experience of theatre-going during the war.

After a delicious lunch, courtesy of the Marlowe, and an opportunity to chat to each other about our diverse interests and backgrounds (participants included students from the Langtons schools, members of the Western Front Association, and local historians, to name but a few) the afternoon began with rehearsed readings of three First World War one-act plays: The Devil’s Business by J. Fenner Brockway (1914); God’s Outcasts by J. Hartley Manners (1919); andSONY DSC A Well Remembered Voice by J.M. Barrie (1918). It was quite something to see these plays brought to life, the first two quite probably for the first time ever. The actors, including three current Drama students, Zach Wilson (PhD) , Alexander Sullivan, and Louise Hoare, all did an excellent job, especially as the plays were quite distinct in tone and style, and as the actors had only had two and a half days rehearsal in total. After a stimulating discussion about the plays, with some excellent insights from audience members, the day was then rounded off nicely with a thoughtful talk by Dr Andrew Maunder (Reader at University of Hertfordshire) about his own experience of staging ‘lost’ WW1 plays, and in particular A Well Remembered Voice.

This wasn’t the end though! After just a few hours break – during which it was exciting to see our pop-up exhibition on WW1 theatre in the Foyer attracting a lot of attention from audiences waiting to see the RSC – many of us were back at the Marlowe for the evening rehearsed readings. It was great to see an almost entirely SONY DSCnew audience for this. As well as a number of Kent students people came from as far as Dover to join us for this exciting performance. Three of the one-act plays we shared were the same as in the afternoon (although the performances were quite different in energy, something the actors reflected on in the questions afterwards) and we also added an unpublished short play about the Belgian experience during the war entitled There was a King in Flanders (1915) by John G. Brandon. With these four pieces we therefore covered not only the chronological breadth of the war but also a number of different responses to this world event. From The Devil’s Business (1914), a biting satire on the arms trade and its place in fuelling conflict, which was banned in London during the war; to There was a King in Flanders (1915) with its focus on a dying Belgian soldier; and finally to God’s Outcasts (1919) and A Well Remembered Voice (1918) both of which offer sharply different responses towards grief, the plays as a whole offered new insights into the diverse ways in which theatre treated the war between 1914 and 1918. And with insightful comments and an enthusiastic response from the audience, it seems there’s certainly potential to hold similar events in the future.

SONY DSC If you’d like to find out more about Theatre of the First World War, contact Dr Helen Brooks at Our pop-up exhibition on Theatre of the First World War is available for free loan to theatres, schools and other public institutions. If you would like to host this exhibition simply get in touch with There is no charge for hosting or delivery.

This study day was one of a series of events being run by Gateways to the First World War, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded centre for public engagement with the First World War. To find out more about Gateways and how we can help you with activities, advice and expertise, visit

With thanks to Leila Sangtabi for provision of photographs.

Oranges, sensation and the Lyceum theatre: student exhibition

On Monday evening, we had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate a term’s worth of students’ hard work, intensive research and in depth study on some of our archival materials.

posterAll term, second year students from the Drama department, taking the British Theatre History: Victorian & Edwardian module, have been enjoying enhanced access to some of our unique and rare Theatre Archives. This access has involved two hours of teaching with the collections each week, and the opportunity to explore and research a topic of their choice independently. Their work has culminated in an exhibition curated entirely by the students, in groups, presenting their research and the materials which they have used. It’s been wonderful to see people get so inspired and enthusiastic about the materials which we’re lucky enough to hold.

Students with their orange poll

Students with their orange poll

This year, we’ve had some very innovative ideas presented, including a walk-along timeline, a reconstruction of the sensation scene from ‘After Dark’ (on a miniature scale) and an orange poll about the real orange women in the theatre. The topics covered include sensation on stage, women in the theatre, pantomime costume and characters, damsels in distress, the Lyceum Theatre and pictorialism and Charles Kean. As ever, the students’ work has been illuminating and has shown just how creatively archival materials can be used.

 ‘Very good, the costume was amazing’

The students arranged the launch, refreshments and all!

The students also arranged the launch, refreshments and all!

On Monday, we celebrated all this hard work with the launch of the exhibition, which was attended by a wide range of people who left great feedback. The students have, I think, been amazed by what they have achieved and delighted with the responses – and here in Special Collections, we’re very proud of their success!

‘Excellent work by all and very well presented’

This is the fourth year which this module has been run in conjunction with Special Collections. Each year has brought up some new success and, we hope, inspired some new theatre historians into archival work. It’s also become something of an annual tradition, and we’re delighted that this work has now become firmly embedded in the academic year. The pressure is on for our 5th anniversary next year!

‘A wonderful worth-while event and I loved the sequence of exhibits’

The exhibition will run until 8 May, in the Templeman Gallery, during library opening hours. Please do pop in to have a look, and let us know what you think!