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New exhibition celebrates theatre in Bristol

Image of a John Elvery costume design for Cinderella, 1996

Image of a John Elvery costume design for Cinderella, 1996

John Elvery costume designs for Gertrude and Gladys ball dresses, Cinderella, 1996 courtesy of the University of Bristol Theatre Collection

Press release issued: 9 December 2015

A treasure trove of items from the University of Bristol Theatre Collection goes on display at the Royal West of England Academy this week as part of a new exhibition Centre Stage: Celebrating Theatre in Bristol.

The free exhibition, which opens this Friday [11 December], takes visitors on a magical exploration of the story of theatre in Bristol, turning the spotlight on those working behind the scenes as well as the famous names on stage.

Centre Stage celebrates the 250th anniversary of Bristol Old Vic, 70 years of the Bristol Old Vic Company, 70 years of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and 70 years of the Theatre Club and 65 years of the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

By far the largest lender to the show is the University of Bristol Theatre Collection which houses one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history and live art.

Visitors will get the chance to see a selection of intriguing and beautiful items held by the Collection including some of the original Bristol Old Vic ‘silver tickets’ issued in 1766 to shareholders who assisted in the founding of the theatre.  These tickets entitled their proprietor “to the sight of every performance to be exhibited in this house” – a promise the theatre honours to this day.

Other items from the Collection on display include production photographs spanning a forty-year period in the Bristol Old Vic’s history.  Taken by Derek Balmer PPRWA and Desmond Tripp, these intimate black and white images feature a host of famous names such as Pete Postlethwaite, Peter O’Toole, Jane Asher, Annette Crosbie and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Also on display are some remarkable nineteenth century ‘Tinsel’ prints, hand coloured images, adorned with fabric and metal foil, of actors playing various roles, which were highly popular in Victorian times.  These form part of the world-renowned Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection, donated to the University in 2011.

The exhibition also includes life size sets and props from the Disney and Cameron Mackintosh production of Mary Poppins, which had its world premiere in Bristol in 2004, alongside costumes from Cameron Mackintosh and the Really Useful Theatre Company’s production of The Phantom of the Opera.

There is also work on display from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, including a repainted set cloth of the Wild Wood from Cinderella, recreated from a set design by John Elvery held in the Theatre Collection, and reproductions of costumes made by the Theatre School.  An immersive new artwork creates ‘a theatre within a theatre’ and provides a glimpse into the very special relationship between audience and performer at Bristol Old Vic.

Jo Elsworth, Director of the University of Bristol Theatre Collection said: “We’re delighted to be able to loan so many of our holdings to the RWA for this exhibition celebrating Bristol’s long theatrical tradition and to work so closely with the theatre and theatre school to bring these items to life.  2016 is a year of many remarkable anniversaries for theatre in this city, including the Theatre Collection’s own foundation in 1951.

“Since then, the Collection has gone from strength to strength, expanding to become a fully accredited museum and research centre, and continuing to act as a key resource for the scholarly community as well as a source of creative inspiration to all.”

Centre Stage: Celebrating Theatre in Bristol runs from 11 December 2015 to 24 January 2016 at the Royal West of England Academy, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1PX; Admission FREE

Open: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 6pm; Sunday 11am – 5pm; Christmas Opening Hours: CLOSED Thurs 24 December to Mon 28 December OPEN Tues 29 Dec: 10am – 6pm, Wed 30 Dec: 10am – 6pm, Thurs 31 Dec: 10am – 4pm CLOSED Fri 1 Jan New Year’s Day. Sat 2 Jan: Open as normal

Further information

About the University of Bristol Theatre Collection

The University of Bristol Theatre Collection contains one of the largest archives relating to British theatre history in the world.  It is also an accredited museum and a research facility open to all.  Its collections cover all aspects of theatre history up to the present day and include original documents, photographs, artwork and artefacts.  Significant archive collections include London Old Vic, Bristol Old Vic and the world renowned Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson Collection.  Research visitors include a wide range of people from local students to international academic scholars and from family historians to the public who come to see the small, regularly changing exhibitions.

The Theatre Collection is based at 21 Park Row, Bristol BS1 5LT.  For further information about the collection, please contact Jo Elsworth, 0117 3315086  

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