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Theatre Royal Stratford East collection

History of Theatre Royal Stratford East

Theatre Royal Stratford East was designed by James George Buckle for actor-manager Charles Dillon. Buckle was the author of ‘Theatre Construction and Maintenance’ (1888), and Stratford East appears to be his sole surviving work. In 1887 and 1891 Buckle returned to make several alterations to the building.

Stratford East’s grand opening performance took place on 17 December 1884 with Lytton Strachey's play ‘Richelieu’. Charles Dillon played the lead role. He later sold Stratford East to Albert O’Leary Fredericks, his sister’s brother-in-law. Fredericks was a local coal merchant who had already been part-financing the Theatre. On Fredericks’ death in June 1901 his niece and adopted daughter Caroline Fredericks Ellis assumed ownership. In 1902 she commissioned Frank Matcham to supervise alterations including the improvement of the entrance corridor, new drapes, carpets and seats and the installation of electric current.. The renovated theatre re-opened on 12 May 1902. Stratford East remained in the Fredericks family until 1932, with the Company finally closing on 11 February 1933.

During and after the Second World War the theatre was closed for several years. Attempts were made with Variety programmes but with television becoming more dominant these never lasted. In October 1946 David Horne took over. Together with his wife Ann Farrer, Horne ran seasons of ‘straight’ plays at Stratford East until the start of 1950. The Theatre Workshop then rented the theatre for six weeks. It was six weeks that never ended Theatre Workshop was a touring company which had been established in the North of England in 1945, and it saw Stratford East as an opportunity to set up a permanent base. With Joan Littlewood as Artistic Director, Gerry Raffles as Manager and John Bury as Designer, the company opened on 2 February 1953 with a production of ‘Twelfth Night’. The Theatre Workshop team went on to produce and premičre productions such as ‘A Taste of Honey’ (1958) and ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ (1963) at Stratford East. During the early 1970s Gerry Raffles maintained a campaign to save the theatre from demolition by developers, which led to English Heritage designating Stratford East a Grade II listed building in 1972. In 1975 Raffles died, and Littlewood subsequently left Stratford East and stopped directing.

From 1979 to 2004 Philip Hedley was Artistic Director at Stratford East. He had previously worked as an assistant to Littlewood, and he continued and expanded the educational work which she had started. The Theatre engaged in large-scale co-productions with many subsidised Black and Asian companies, including Black Theatre Co-operative/NITRO, Talawa, Tamasha, Moti Roti, and Tara Arts. In 1999 he began the Musical Theatre Initiatives scheme, which helped to encourage new writing in musical theatre.

After major rebuilding by the Lottery Fund in 2001 English Heritage upgraded the listing to Grade 11 Starred.

Kerry Michael was appointed Artistic Director following Hedley’s resignation. He marked the beginning of his tenure with a production ‘The Battle of Green Lanes’, which was based in London’s Cypriot communities. He went on to win an Oliver Award with ‘Pied Piper’ (2006) and to be the first ever Oliver nomination for a pantomime with ‘Cinderella’ (2008).

The history is based on the following sources:

http://www.stratfordeast.com/history.php [accessed 17October 2008]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_Royal_Stratford_East [accessed 17 October 2008]
‘Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950’, John Earl and Michael Sell (2000)

Scope and Content of the collection

The digitised items are sourced from archives held by Theatre Royal Stratford East at its base in Stratford, East London.

Copyright holders

Theatre Royal Stratford East

East London Theatre Archive

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East London Theatre Archive

East London Theatre Archive