Photographs of a young Laurence Olivier, documents about a groundbreaking Shakespeare production and letters censoring references to Adolf Hitler are part of an online archive being produced to celebrate Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s centenary.
More than £175,000 will be invested in a new website to bring to life an archive of rare photographs, letters and newspaper articles to celebrate 100 years since the theatre was founded.
Parts of the archive relate to censorship – including letters from the Lord Chamberlain’s office in the 1930s demanding certain Hitler references are removed – and coverage of Behzti, the play which depicted a rape in a Sikh temple, which was cancelled in 2004 after violent protests.
Other items that people will be able to see include photographs of a young Laurence Olivier making his stage debut in Birmingham and the personal correspondence of Sir Barry Jackson, who founded the theatre in 1913.
General manager Trina Jones said: “There is all manner of material, including technical plans for the old rep and the current building, licences from the Lord Chamberlain and letters from the period that censorship ended. And there are an awful lot of photographs.
“Something interesting is letters from the Lord Chamberlain’s office about the content of new plays.”
She added: “There is a lot of correspondence where the company is being told to remove certain references, including one about Adolf Hitler.”
The REP 100 website – www.rep100.org – will contain more than 3,000 records of The REP’s historic productions – including photographs, letters, documents and other fascinating ephemera from its history and will be made available to the public, many for the first time, next year.
The REP 100 project has been made possible by a grant of £175,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and will form part of the theatre’s wider centenary celebrations.
In addition to the digital archive, the project plans to bring The REP’s heritage to life with the creation of oral histories from audiences, actors, writers, directors and audience members.
Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench are among those to have been involved in productions in recent years.
Ms Jones said the theatre has often been groundbreaking, which means it has an interesting past.
She said: “We were the first company to do Shakespeare in modern dress. It was an absolutely watershed production of Hamlet in the late 1930s.
“From more recent times I suspect the public will be interested in the press coverage of Behzti. That will probably be quite strong in people’s minds because it was only in 2004.”
Celebrations will also include an exhibition, audio tours of the Old Rep theatre on Station Street and The REP’s current home on Broad Street, which is currently undergoing redevelopment as part of the Library of Birmingham, and a range of heritage activity days.
Reyahn King, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the West Midlands, said: “Birmingham Repertory Theatre holds a special place in many people’s hearts and is an important part of the city’s cultural history.
"Now, with this grant REP 100 will enable people of all ages to get involved and explore its remarkable stories of the stage so that they can be preserved for everyone’s enjoyment for many years to come.”
The REP’s heritage playwright David Edgar, said: “The importance of Sir Barry Jackson and The REP is underestimated. The REP was the first purpose built repertory theatre in Britain.
“Beyond the dazzling array of actors whose careers started at the theatre, Sir Barry and his successors presided over many path-finding innovations in writing, production and design.
"From its groundbreaking modern dress Shakespeare productions in the 1920s and1930s to its impressive programme of new writing from the 1970s onwards, the REP has reflected the changing character of the city and the country.
“Its archive tells that story and its digitisation will prove vital to historians, theatre-makers, scholars and students alike.”
The REP 100 website will go live in September and full details of The REP’s centenary celebrations will be announced in the Autumn.