"Outstanding record" of British theatre history as University of Bristol goes nuts for M & M

By Culture24 Staff | 07 June 2011
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A photo of a sketch of a large urban building
An original sketch of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, by Orson Welles (1955) is part of the M & M Collection heading to Bristol© Courtesy University of Bristol Theatre Collection
From Noël Coward to W Somerset Maugham and Orson Welles, the 2,500-box M & M collection of material on the great and the good of board-treading history is thought to contain a file on every actor, writer, director and designer of note from the past 200 years of British theatre.

The result of a lifetime’s foraging by actors Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchison, its reference section alone contains more than 500,000 items, including press cuttings, photographs, letters, engravings, audio recordings, props and costumes.

An image of a painting of a 19th century thespian in tight green attire
Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Gringoire in The Ballad Monger (circa 1912). Charles A Buchel© Courtesy University of Bristol Theatre Collection
In a £300,000 investment which includes storage facilities to protect it, the University of Bristol will now take charge of the world-renowned archive, to be be held at the institution’s Royal Fort House.

“The safeguarding of this important collection within the University’s Theatre Collection, an accredited museum and internationally renowned research resource, will create an unparalleled educational facility that is open to all,” says Professor Eric Thomas, the university Vice-Chancellor.

“Students and academic researchers, theatre professionals and the media, family historians and interested members of the public will be able to access it.  The University is honoured to be chosen as the most suitable home for this esteemed collection.”

Ten of the paintings it holds have been hung inside the house to mark the arrival, although they still only represent a fraction of the total artworks involved, which are thought to number more than 350 pieces.

An image of a painting of a man in orange thespian gear striking an upward pose
George Almar as Carnaby Catchpurse in The Cedar Chest (1834). RW Buss
© Courtesy University of Bristol Theatre Collection
“We will now focus on caring for the collection and making it available so that current and future generations can study, learn from and, most importantly, enjoy it,” says Jo Elsworth, the Director of the university’s own impressive Theatre Collection.

“Through the personal and professional friendships of Raymond and Joe, we have a unique and insightful archive illustrating the public and the private side of theatre and those involved in it.

“Combining our two great collections creates an outstanding record of the history of British theatre.”
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