Theatre Roundabout Archive

Overview

Theatre Roundabout was a unique company which originally specialised in religious theatre. It started life as a London company called Theatre Group Productions and changed its name to Theatre Roundabout in 1961. The company was managed by the playwright Peter Albery, who remained chairman until his death in 1979, and it soon developed into a genre-breaking touring company. Theatre Roundabout played in all sorts of venues: from small churches to cathedrals, from arts venues to village halls and by 1967 was touring internationally.

The vast majority of Theatre Roundabout’s work comprised two person shows featuring William Fry and his late wife, Sylvia Read. From their very first production together, A Strange Coming, it was their impressive onstage partnership that lay at the heart of Theatre Roundabout. The extraordinary statistics show what a prolific company they created. By the time they stopped performing, almost half a century later, they had played together over 4,200 times. The very fact that the company survived as a going concern for over forty years, while most other similar companies fell by the wayside, gives an indication of the couple’s skill and dedication.

Sylvia and William developed a unique technique. By playing numerous characters and combining dialogue with narrative they found a way they could dramatise great novels such as Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Howards End and turn them into two-handers. Their adaptation of Vanity Fair required William to play thirteen parts and Sylvia eight, whilst Hamlet required the pair to play fourteen different parts while also operating the music and sound effect tapes themselves!

By the time of their final performance, Shadowlands (2008), their pioneering method of adapting and writing new plays, performing at a wide variety of venues and moving between religious and secular plays - which at one time completely broke with all convention - had become firmly established within wider theatrical practice in the UK and abroad. 

What the collection holds

The history of this remarkable company is recorded within its archive which comprises business papers, programmes, photographs, scripts, costumes, props and other accessories.

The directors of Theatre Roundabout and William Fry donated the archive in its entirety to the Theatre Collection in 2013/14 as a tribute to Sylvia Read.

The online catalogue for this collection can be viewed here:
TR - Theatre Roundabout Archive

Sylvia Read and William Fry in the Theatre Roundabout production of Vanity Fair Image credit: University of Bristol Theatre Collection
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