The centenary of Birmingham Rep: developing public and professional recognition of the Rep’s distinctive history and role within the national culture of contemporary British theatre
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Worcester
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The case study describes impact associated with Prof Claire Cochrane's
twenty years' research into the history of the Birmingham Repertory
Theatre, one of the UK's largest and most historically important regional
producing theatres. Impact derived primarily from her advisory work from
2011-13 with the theatre's senior management and project leaders on
realisation of their REP100 centenary celebrations. Cochrane
provided support for the development of wider local, regional and national
public recognition and understanding of the Rep's distinctive history and
current role and influence within the evolving ecology of contemporary
British theatre, at a time of extreme economic challenge for the Rep and
for regional theatres throughout England.
Cochrane's published research into the Birmingham Repertory Theatre — one
of the UK's most important regional producing theatres — has spanned the
last twenty years and has all been conducted during her period of academic
employment at the University of Worcester. Her 1993 monograph, drawn from
her doctoral research in the 1980s, was the first detailed analysis of the
early development of Birmingham Rep's radical innovations in Shakespeare
production which led, in the 1920s, to the highly influential productions
of Shakespeare in modern dress. Her subsequent research into the history
of the company from 1962 until 2002 produced arguably the most
comprehensive and in-depth exploration of the artistic, managerial and
financial history of a major regional theatre to be published in recent
years. In addition to her analysis of the means by which Birmingham Rep
became a leading regional centre for the nurturing of new playwriting,
there was a parallel focus on the theatre's promotion of the work of Black
British and British Asian actors and playwrights. Cochrane subsequently
expanded this area of her research into developments in Birmingham as a
whole since the 1970s, and then undertook comparative studies of similar
initiatives at Nottingham Playhouse and Leicester Haymarket Theatre.
Cochrane's research into Birmingham Rep has covered a complete century
and thereby provided a basis for the wide-ranging knowledge of changing
economic and social trends in British theatre which led to her most recent
monograph. Informed by her growing interest in cultural geography and
social economics, this mapped the history of theatre as artistic and
industrial practice across all four nations of the United Kingdom
throughout the twentieth century. A significant strand of the book, which
explores the effect of demographic change brought about as a result of
migration from countries once part of the British empire, was stimulated
by her research into Birmingham Rep's response to the growth of an
increasingly diverse local population within its immediate urban context.
An understanding of third sector status — which requires subsidised
theatre managements constantly to manoeuvre between not-for-profit
idealism and commercial imperatives — is another strand, grounded in
Cochrane's study of Birmingham Rep's financial history; this has opened up
a new area of economic enquiry which is proving increasingly influential
within the academy. As a regional theatre historian Cochrane's work
interrogates the unequal cultural and economic relations between the
metropolitan core and the regional periphery. Her most recent research
into the work of the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, and the consequences of
its history as part of post-war urban regeneration, is further evidence
of her continuing preoccupation with the importance of the regional
experience for both theatre-makers and theatre-goers.
References to the research
Claire Cochrane, Shakespeare and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre:
1913-1929, The Society for Theatre Research, 1993.
Claire Cochrane, The Birmingham Rep: A City's Theatre 1962-2002,
Sir Barry Jackson Trust, 2003.
Claire Cochrane, Twentieth Century British Theatre Industry, Art and
Empire, Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Contributions to edited collections
Claire Cochrane, `"A Local Habitation and a Name": Developments in Black
and Asian Theatre in Birmingham since the 1970s' in Dimple Godiwala (ed.)
Alternatives Within the Mainstream: British Black and Asian Theatres,
Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006.
Claire Cochrane, `Engaging the Audience: A Comparative Analysis of
Developmental Strategies at Birmingham Rep and Leicester Haymarket Theatre
since the 1990s' in G.Ley and S.Dadswell (eds), Critical Essays on
British South Asian Theatre, University of Exeter Press, 2012.
`Theatre and Urban Space: The Case of Birmingham Rep', New Theatre
Quarterly, XVI, Part 2 (NTQ 62), May 2000, pp.137-147.
2006-7 AHRC Research Leave award, £25,000.
Details of the impact
Cochrane's contribution to public knowledge of the importance of the
Birmingham Repertory Theatre dates back as far as the 1980s. (Her doctoral
research initiated the move of the theatre's archive to Birmingham Central
Library, where it has been conserved and made publicly accessible.
Throughout the 1990s she led annual public day schools as part of
Birmingham's annual city-wide Towards the Millennium Festival.
Core elements of her published histories of the Rep featured in season
programmes from 1994-9 and, most recently, were included in programmes
launching the centenary celebrations). When the Rep closed in 2011 for a
multi-million pound redevelopment as part of Birmingham's new Central
Library, Cochrane provided a century-long time-line for display on
hoardings around the building. Since 2008, she has regularly given invited
talks about the Rep's history to locally-based groups such as the
Birmingham National Trust Association, Central Birmingham Soroptimist
International Club, University of the Third Age, the Shakespeare Club of
Stratford-upon-Avon and to the Friends of Dymock Poets Society. The
theatre now regularly directs requests for talks to her.
In 2011, Cochrane took part in informal consultations on how best to
develop community participation in the Rep's Rep100 celebrations
and to suggest ways in which the Rep's often radical, but historically
`top-down' contribution to British theatre could stimulate public
engagement and the interest of community volunteers. Cochrane proposed key
individuals and events to be highlighted within the chronologies of the
four distinctive themes that shaped the Rep's successful £175,000 Heritage
Lottery Fund bid to create a digital archive which would conserve the
theatre's heritage and permit wider access and understanding (www.birmingham-rep.co.uk).
Her support provided accurate historical information to REP100
project leader, Jenny Smith and exhibition curator, Gwendolen Whittaker
which proved essential to successful creation of the REP100
touring exhibition and accompanying catalogue. Cochrane assisted Whittaker
in identifying the provenance of artefacts for exhibition and clarified
the origins of original material held by Birmingham City Museum & Art
Gallery, including the context for a series of paintings by Dame Laura
Knight of Rep performances from the 1930s to 1950s. She brokered an
invitation from the Bristol Theatre Collection for Whittaker to access the
Manders and Mitcheson archive, which contains additional artefacts. She
then wrote brief introductions to each of the four themes illustrated in
the exhibition catalogue — `Station Street to Stratford via Malvern';
`Drama Queens'; `The Detail's in the Design'; and `Hidden Histories' — and
edited and contributed to extended captions accompanying illustrations.
From January 2013, Cochrane was credited formally as REP100's
Historical Advisor. The exhibition launched at the Old Birmingham
Repertory theatre in February 2013 and was then mounted at Birmingham's
Grosvenor G Casino (REP100's sponsors), the Royal Shakespeare Theatre,
Malvern Library (as part of the Malvern Festival) and a further 16 local
Birmingham libraries. To date the total number of people accessing Old
Rep-related activities is 1,504. 5000 copies of the catalogue were printed
and Cochrane continues to provide advice for the expanded exhibition to be
mounted in September 2013 in the new public space shared between the
refurbished theatre and the new Library of Birmingham. Anticipated total
visitor numbers to the exhibition by November 2013 is estimated at 10,000.
At the request of the Rep, Cochrane took part in a BBC1 Inside Out
West Midlands feature broadcast in time for its actual 100th
birthday. On discovery of an apparently handwritten script belonging to
Laurence Olivier dating from 1927, she was interviewed for The Times.
The two-day REP100 Weekender event held in March 2013 at the
`Old' Birmingham Repertory Theatre was designed to appeal to diverse
publics, from local people wishing to recover memories of the theatre and
its legacy to academic and non-academic theatre specialists. Cochrane
worked closely with the project leaders to create a lively accessible
programme, acting as co-ordinating Chair throughout. The first day focused
on the theatre's history and heritage; the second, taking Cochrane's theme
of `Drama Queens,' concentrated on women's contribution to contemporary
theatre and began with Cochrane interviewing actor and writer Meera Syal.
There then followed a series of panels: the first comprised well-known
women playwrights including Bryony Lavery and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti; the
second brought together actor and director Dame Janet Suzman with deigner
Pamela Howard and actors Shelley King and Lorna Laidlaw; the third
comprised key executives and directors including Kate Horton, Deputy
Executive Director of the National Theatre and Vikki Heywood, former
Executive Director of the RSC. In all, the Weekender attracted an
audience of some 165.
Rep 100 celebrations attracted extensive national media coverage
including features and/or interviews in the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian,
The Independent, The Stage, BBC News, BBC Inside Out and Whatsonstage.com.
Additionally, there has been widespread regional coverage including
coverage on BBC Midlands Today and BBC Radio WM, and in the Birmingham
Post, the Birmingham Mail, the Birmingham Post & Mail, the Shropshire
Star, Edge Magazine and Birmingham Life.
Sources to corroborate the impact
The REP100 A Century of Dramatic History 129pp. 115 illustrations,
pub. Birmingham Rep, printed in an edition of 5000.
of one day of the REP100 Weekender in the Shakespeare Blog
written by speaker Sylvia Morris.
The Times, 15 February 2013, `Memory notes that helped a teenage
actor named Olivier' by Jack Malvern, Arts Correspondent.
`Inside Out West Midlands', BBC1 West Midlands, 11 February 2013.
Roxana Silbert, Artistic Director, Birmingham Rep (value of Cochrane's
research to the Rep's own, institutional understanding of its history,
development and contribution to regional theatre in the UK)
Stuart Rogers, Executive Director, Birmingham Rep (value of Cochrane's
role in supporting public engagement with the Birmingham Rep and its
history and supporting the Rep's community programmes)
Jenny Smith, REP100 project manager (Cochrane's role in the
development and realisation of REP100 celebrations and in
achieving the Rep's successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid)
Gwendolen Whittaker, REP100 exhibition curator (Cochrane's role
in development and realisation of the REP100 exhibition and the
role of the exhibition in supporting 21st century public
involvement in the Rep and its work)
David Edgar, playwright and cultural commentator (Cochrane's role in
developing public and professional understanding of the evolution and
cultural, social and political impact of regional theatre in the UK)