‘Nottingham audiences are supposed to be the toughest’: The best stories from Theatre Royal’s new history archive

Theatre Royal pictured in 1908. (Photo: Theatre Royal archive)

Staff at Nottingham’s iconic Theatre Royal have been collecting historic items from performances for decades. Now, along with fresh material, they’ve been made available online for free thanks to a pioneering project led by volunteers. Esther Roberts has been exploring the hundreds of entries.

Nottinghamshire is well-known for a few things. Mushy peas, ancient caves and the quill pen of Lord Byron. Now we can add another thing to the list: Being a tough crowd.

Among new digital history archives launched by the Theatre Royal are 153 years of historic documents including audio interviews, photographs and copies of old programmes.

Fascinatingly, it also casts light on how the city is seen by touring performers. And we’re always up for a sing-song. But we take no fools.

“Nottingham is supposed to be the toughest,” says the Notts-born actor Sherie Hewson in a recorded interview which is part of the new online treasure trove.

“You’ll never get away with a bad show, you’ve’ got to be tip top to work in Nottingham,”

Hewson’s revealing recorded interview, which also praises Nottingham for it’s enjoyment of a sing-song, is just one of the hundreds of items released online as part of the ‘Our Theatre Royal Nottingham: It’s Stories, People and Heritage’ project.

Posters including this Jimmy Hendrix gig from 1967 feature in the project. (Photo: Theatre Royal)

Working alongside professionals, 65 community volunteers have transformed the venue’s existing archive room, discovering lost stories, programmes, posters, letters and photos.

They’ve also conducted fresh Theatre Royal research across Nottingham and recorded interviews with living people connected to the venue.

Hewson, from Burton Joyce, is famous for dozens of roles on TV including Coronation Street as Maureen Webster, but has also enjoyed a successful stage career in more than 60 years of showbiz.

In another interview she adds she has a special place in her heart for the theatre: “The love of my life is that Theatre Royal.”

In another interview, actor Karen Henson from Tabs Productions says: “The audience is so loyal and welcoming that it feels like we are performing for friends.

“Coming back to Nottingham every summer is like coming home.”

Poster for a production of Robinson Crusoe starring Ken Dodd, 1973. (Photo: Theatre Royal)

But words aren’t the only interesting part of the project. The archives have it all from first-hand accounts of Jimi Hendrix’s legendary performance in 1967 to original programmes and playbills dating back to 1865.

The project is the result of two years of work from the theatre’s creative learning team who teamed up with the University of Nottingham.

The website is broken down into themes such as pantomime, theatre during the wars, onstage, backstage and building the theatre.

The project began in 2015 when the theatre celebrated its 150th anniversary and was made possible by a funding boost of £17,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Jo Robinson, a Professor in Drama and Performance at the University of Nottingham, played a major part in developing the volunteer-led approach to the project.

“The archive draws on not just the hard work and research of our volunteers but also their local knowledge, personal stories and passion for the venue,” she said.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to work with such an enthusiastic and committed team.”

Anyone with stories or artefacts to contribute to the theatre’s ongoing archive project can email David Longford on david.longford@nottinghamcity.gov.uk for further information.

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