British Library presents Black Theatre Making and Censorship in the Archive – a live and online event

On Wed 6th July from 7.00pm to 8.30pm BST, The British Library hosts an interesting free event, held both in-person and simultaneously available online, which explores the unjustly hidden contributions of black artists in the world of theatre.

Black theatre making is often written out of the archive, credited to white theatre practitioners, or catalogued in ways that make it hard to find. But because Black theatre makers were frequently at the forefront of movements for change, their work was regularly subject to censorship and surveillance and collected in state archives.

This panel discussion and performance explores Black theatre making in the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays Collection, an archive which owes its existence to British theatre censorship laws requiring theatre managers to obtain a license to stage a new play up until 1968.

Come and find out how Black theatre practitioners are talking back to archives of censorship to recover the rich heritage of Black theatre making.

The event will feature staged readings from theatre manuscripts and censored reports held in the Lord Chamberlain’s collection and a chance for audience members to consider what they would censor if these plays were performed today.

This event will take place at the British Library. It will be simultaneously live streamed on the British Library platform. Tickets may be booked either to attend in person (physical), or to watch on our platform (online) either live or within 48 hours on catch up.  Viewing links will be sent out shortly before the event.

This event is supported by the Independent Social Research Foundation as part of the ‘Archives of Cultural Surveillance and the Making of Black Histories’ project

The event is organised by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. The Eccles Centre exists to support and promote creative research and lifelong learning about the Americas, through the world-class collections of the British Library.

Learn more and book your free tickets here

British Library’s upcoming Theatre season makes promising viewing

The British Library are delving into their archives to shine a spotlight on those at the forefront of technical innovation and those behind the scenes in some fascinating events this Spring

The Explore Theatre Season runs from March 9th to 29th and features three events online and two events in-person.

ONLINE ONLY Pioneering Progression: Joan Littlewood and Theatre Royal Stratford East (discussing the pioneering Theatre Workshop Company at Theatre Royal Stratford East)
Wed 9 Mar, 19:30 – 20:45

ONLINE ONLY Theatre of the Absurd? The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on Stage (recalling theatre maverick Ken Campbell’s extraordinary first stage production of the cult show at London’s gigantic Rainbow Theatre)
Fri 11 Mar, 20:15 – 21:15

IN PERSON EVENT ONLY Anything Could Happen Next: A Celebration of People Show (The UK’s first alternative theatre company)
Sun 13 Mar, 14:00 – 16:00

IN PERSON AND ONLINE Peggy Ramsay: Queen of Agents (celebrating the legendary Peggy Ramsay and her unique contribution to theatre)
Tue 29 Mar, 19:00 – 20:30

I am sure that these will be popular so please do book early to avoid disappointment.

Find out more here

Archives in danger: call for applications as new funding now available

Archive photo via British Library website with thanks

Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving?

The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting preliminary applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is Monday 15th November 2021 at 12 noon GMT. Full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.

The Programme has funded over 430 projects in 90 countries and has helped preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals. The programme aims to digitise archives at risk of loss or decay and, where possible, to relocate the material to a safe local archival home. The digital copies are deposited with the local archival partners, and are all available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website.

This year, they are accepting applications through their online portal between 1st and 15th November. However, in the meantime, they are providing Word and PDF documents for applicants to perfect their preliminary applications before the online submission.

If you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will encourage them to apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, consult their website or contact them at

Anyone with a theatre archive needing care and funding to survive, please ensure you apply!

Theatre FootNotes for June 2019; A summary of other theatre events in my diary

13th June – GLOBAL INDIGENOUS VOICES at the British Library. Third in a series of Global Voices Theatre events, this was presented in association with Border Crossings as part of the tenth annual Origins festival 2019 . Fifteen-minute extracts from five plays from New Zealand, Alaska, Canada, and America were given a rehearsed reading for an audience of around 150. The event was guest curated by Madeleine Sayet and presented by Global Voices Artistic Director Lora Krasteva and Producer Robin Skyer. Global Voices Theatre is now an Arts Council funded organisation, yet another reason to celebrate their continued development.

18th June – CASH COW by Oli Forsyth. At Hampstead Theatre Downstairs until 20 July.

Tennis is a dynamic and exciting visual game. CASH COW, as presented here, is. so static and non-visual that it could play on radio with no loss whatsoever. A smart set and some fancy lighting does not change the fact that this is a talk-heavy, resolutely un-visual show.

The play’s viewpoint is rather belied by the title. Two parents are told that their ten-year old child is exceptional at playing tennis, so they invest effort and resources into honing her talent. So begins a 20-year journey studded with tennis coaches, globe-trotting, using drugs to manipulate natural development to fit the rigid playing schedules, separation on different continents, and much more. Money is the driver, and the child pays the price.

So at what point did that ordinary, hopeful parent become too pushy, and then manipulative and then all-consumed? We see the slide down the slippery slope of good intentions, as the parents lose control of – and contact with – their daughter. At what point did their child become artificially induced into being a product? At what point did the parent start to refer to himself as the manager and promoter? And at what point did the parents sit down and agree “I made her” and “she owes us”?

Anyone can see that the extremes that the parents go to seem bound to engender damage in youngsters who need space and help in exploring themselves. What is very telling is that every discussion with the child featured in the play is dominated by the parent – and the (unseen) child’s answers are always one word- OK, no or yes. The child, as far as I remember, is never even given the respect of a name- always referred to as her, she, love or honey. So at no point in the whole 20 year span of this story do we ever hear the parents having any sort of discussion with the child, asking for her own ideas and what she wants to do.

At one point it is suggested that the coach is physically abusing the child, and the parent’s rightful initial revulsion is rapidly distorted by the calculation of the effect that any action will have on their investment, causing the audience to draw parallels – so surely both the coach and the parents are abusing the child, just in different ways?

Escalating dramatic distortions of relationships climax with inter-familial lawsuits and the ending is effective, suggesting the price of “success” is not worth the paper its written on.

As the distortions in behaviour happen incrementally over time, the play’s jumping about in time helps us to see the differences in a more marked way, but the audience have to do a lot of work in placing the pieces. Where it backfires is that the scenes are so short and bitty that one tires of the monotony of the concept, trying the audience’s patience and making the show feel much longer than its 90 minutes.

The fact that I have not been a parent or a child prodigy may colour my take on this, but I found it impossible to care for any of these characters, or to be particularly drawn in to this long 90-minute piece that a lot of the audience watched with their eyes shut.

Perhaps this show will be a wake-up call for those countless parents out there who are driven to push their child harder than they once pushed themselves. Perhaps it will cause them to consider the price that will be paid by all parties. And whether kids should just be allowed to be kids.

21st June – Royal Central School Graduation show – a musical A PERMANENT STATE OF EMERGENCY. Final year students in a specially-commissioned new musical, directed by Sue Dunderdale.

27th June – THE BASEMENT TAPES – seen as part of the Incoming Festival at New Diorama Theatre in London.

It is always exciting to see new work from other parts of the world visiting the UK and so I was intrigued by this New Zealand originated show which sounded full of possibilities. Sadly, most remained unrealised after this disappointing, overlong hour.

You spend a lot of time in the dark during this show. About half of the running time, in fact. Listening to a taped voice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for great theatre, in my opinion.

We are in a basement of a house in New Zealand. A teenage girl rummages around in boxes of her dead grandmother’s belongings in a superficial attempt to sort things out, making more mess as she goes. The piece gradually morphs into a kind of spook story as the discovery of a cassette tape player and some significantly labelled tapes reveals the voice of the deceased grandmother describing in dreamlike detail a murder that she may have committed.

There were significant moments of potential when I hoped that the show would spark into life, with the discovery of the tape machine and tapes: the smell of a garment embodying the sensory memory of the grandma was also a telling moment: also, the first notes of the dead grandma’s voice. All had much more potential but they appear to have just been used as punctuation.

However, the indulgent dancing to loud music which occupies the first five minutes, the poor and immature jokes, as well as what felt like padding to fill out the hour started to try the patience.  When we strayed into spooky territory with weird lights and sounds, it all just got a bit daft. Miserable old sod? Maybe. But it appears I was not alone. The teenagers sitting just along from me were checking their twitter feeds repeatedly while all this was going on. A group listening to a voice in the dark can be a very interesting experience, but here it just didn’t seem to ignite. Mind you, the illuminated exit signs and phone screens dotted around the audience didn’t help.

This could have been a very touching examination of teenage experience of bereavement, but it proved very hard to care for this careless teenager in this teenage Stephen King mash-up. The soundscape created was just OK but could have been a lot more textured and interesting (and scary!).

I was sad to have left feeling disappointed.