Birmingham Rep celebrates a dramatic century

Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company celebrates its 100th birthday on Friday, February 15th.

Birmingham Rep and Central Library

Birmingham Rep and Central Library

The dramatic century will be marked with a gala performance of Philip Pullman’s I Was A Rat! followed by a celebratory programme of exhibitions, activity days, guided backstage tours, an audio history project and a new website which will make the company’s remarkable archives available to the public for the first time.

Throughout February and March, The REP celebrates the 100 years since Sir Barry Jackson founded the company in what was the first purpose-built repertory theatre in the UK, the Old Rep on Station Street. The REP returns to the Old Rep for its centenary celebrations while its current home on Broad Street undergoes redevelopment as part of the new Library of Birmingham, reopening later this year.

Over the years many of the UK’s greatest actors have started their careers at The REP, including Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, Ralph Richardson, Albert Finney, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Ian Richardson, Elizabeth Spriggs and director Peter Brook. Many illustrious names have also graced the stage such as Peter O’Toole, Julie Christie, Richard Chamberlain, Patricia Routledge, Kenneth Branagh, Damian Lewis, David Suchet and countless more.

Numerous premieres have taken place too from George Bernard Shaw’s epic Back to Methuselah in 1923 to Ayub Khan-Din’s award-winning East Is East in 1996, the controversial Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti (Dishonour) in 2004 to the long-running stage adaptation of The Snowman in 1993.

Starting on Saturday, February 16ththe REP100 programme will celebrate the actors, the directors, the world premières and the behind-the-scenes staff who have made The REP what it is today. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, REP100 will give people the opportunity to explore behind the scenes and discover the history of 100 years of theatre from The REP’s beginnings, through two world wars, the swinging sixties, right up to the 21st century.  With an exhibition of original theatrical artifacts from past productions, to activity days where people can try on costumes and help get the theatre ready for a performance there’ll be plenty of activities for everyone to enjoy.

Roxana Silbert, The REP’s Artistic Director said: “Birmingham Repertory Theatre has a unique place in British theatre history and we want to invite everyone to come and explore that rich heritage as we celebrate 100 years since the theatre was founded by my visionary predecessor, Sir Barry Jackson.

“We’ve scheduled a fantastic series of events to mark our centenary and give people a wonderful opportunity to get a hands on behind-the-scenes insight into the making of theatre and the history of The REP and the amazingly talented people who have worked here. And as the theatre’s iconic home on Broad Street is being renovated and re-opened this year, there’s also a chance to explore the history of that building, as well as the Old Rep.”

REP100 Programme

REP100 – Behind The Scenes Tours
Sat 16 Feb to Sat 30 March

The Old Rep was The Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s original home; funded and managed by Sir Barry Jackson. These backstage tours will provide a fascinating insight into the early days of the company – when producing and performing twenty or more plays in repertoire was quite normal. Stand in the wings and sit in the Green Room while The REP’s guides interpret both the building and the REP100 exhibition.

Free of charge. Places must be booked in advance.
11am 16, 21, 23 Feb and 2, 18, 20, 21, 25, 28 March
2pm 16, 20, 22 Feb and 1, 18, 20, 25, 26 March
7pm 18, 25, 26 Feb and 12, 13, 30 March

REP100 – Hidden Histories
Mon 18 Feb to Sat 30 March

Interactive, theatrical and vivid, come and experience the Old Rep’s stories bursting to life. Try on costumes, write your own press report, and help get the theatre ready for its first ever performance. Lots of activities for all ages.

Free of charge. Places must be booked in advance.
11am 18, 24 Feb and 30 March
2pm 18 Feb and 27, 30 March
7pm 27 Feb and 20, 25 March

REP100 – Bricks and Mortar
Two free talks which explore the architectural history of The REP.

John Bowen and Sons: builders of the Old Rep, an illustrated talk by Anthony Collins
Sat 16 February 2013 at 12.30pm

The Old Rep was built in just four months between October 1912 and February 1913. Come and hear the story of John Bowen, who walked from Worcestershire to Birmingham with a sack of tools on his back in 1868 and set up his own business building many of Birmingham’s public buildings including the Old Rep and the Victoria Law Courts.

The new REP on Broad Street, a talk by Graham Winteringham
Sat 30 March 2013 at 1pm

Architect of the theatre on Broad Street, Graham Winteringham tells the fascinating story of being commissioned to design a new and democratic repertory theatre – to reflect the physicality of the Old Rep, but to seat an audience of 900 seats! Learn more about his award-winning design.

Free of charge. Places must be booked in advance.

REP100 Weekender
Sat 23 & Sun 24 March

The REP100 weekender will be devoted to a series of talks and discussions on the REP’s achievements and significant influence on the development of British theatre over the last century. A fascinating two days that will appeal to theatre lovers, artists, students, academics and historians.

Station Street to Stratford via Malvern – Saturday 23 March, 9.30am – 6.00pm

Discover the fascinating journey of The REP’s founder, Sir Barry Jackson and his role in theatre development. Leading experts from the UK theatre world will discuss the complexities and rich possibilities of re-imagining classics, as Sir Barry Jackson did when he broke new ground by producing the first Shakespeare in modern dress with his production of Cymbeline in 1923. They will also look at the role of regional theatre today and what the future might hold for The REP and other contemporary theatre makers. Guest speakers include historian Claire Cochrane, playwrights David Edgar and Robin French, REP artistic director Roxana Silbert and theatre designer Pamela Howard.

Drama Queens – Sunday 24 March, 9.30am – 4.00pm

An day-long event which celebrates the women that have played a prominent role in The REP’s story throughout the last century. Female writers, actors and producers will discuss the role The REP has played in the development of women in theatre over the last century and the role of female managers and producers.Guest speakers include playwrights Bryony Lavery and Rachel Delahey, actors Lorna Laidlaw and Shelley King, Deputy Executive of the National Theatre Kate Horton and the RSC’s ex- Chief Executive Vikki Heywood.

Tickets are £5 full price, £3 concessions for each day or free when booking tickets for the performance of Heather Gardner on the Saturday or Sunday evening.

REP100 – The Quiet Pioneer
Sat 30 March at 4pm

The Quiet Pioneer is a documentary about Sir Barry Jackson, the founder of Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company, giving an insight into his life and work in Birmingham, Stratford and Malvern. A special screening in association with Flatpack Festival, for more information visit Free of charge. Places must be booked in advance.

REP100 – Audio Tour
Discover Sir Barry Jackson’s theatrical journey with this audio walking tour.  Starting at the Old Rep on Station Street and finishing at the new REP on Broad Street with lots of interesting points along the way.  Available from Saturday 16 February, listening devices can be collected from The REP’s Box Office, The Box in Central Library, Chamberlain Square (deposit applies) or the audio tour can be downloaded free of charge from

Philip Pullman’s I Was A Rat!

Tue 12 February to Sat 2 March (press night Fri 15 Feb and Sat 16 Feb)

Philip Pullman’s glorious and gripping story is brought to life on the professional stage for the first time in the UK. Combining humour, fantasy, and adventure this moving and darkly comic tale slowly reveals its connection to one of the most famous fairy tales of all time. Full of music, fantastic physical performances and unforgettable images I Was A Rat! will surprise, delight and move audiences of all ages. Adapted and directed by Teresa Ludovico.

Tickets: £8 to £20, with concessions available

Heather Gardner
A version of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler by Robin French
Thu 14 to Sat 28 March (press night Tue 19 March)

Thrilling, enigmatic, destructive, Heather Gardner brings to life one of Ibsen’s most irresistible heroines in a fresh and stylish new version. It’s September 1962. Beautiful socialite Heather returns from her honeymoon to her dream home in Edgbaston where Neville Chamberlain once lived – but nothing is turning out as planned. Heather soon finds herself on a spiral of self-destruction, caught between her old flame Alec Lambart and the clutches of the predatory solicitor Peregrine Brand. There can be only one outcome. Directed by Mike Bradwell.
Tickets: £8 to £28, with concessions available

Birmingham Rep 2008

Birmingham Rep 2008


Birmingham Repertory Theatre – Key Dates

  • 1879: Barry Jackson was born.
  • 1913: Birmingham Repertory Theatre opens on Station Street. Founded and financed by Barry Jackson the small elegant playhouse seating just 464 is the first new purpose-built British repertory theatre.
  • 1916: Eden Phillpott’s rural comedy The Farmer’s Wife isdestined to become a major popular success over two decades.
  • 1919: John Drinkwater’s play Abraham Lincoln becomes the first REP production to be presented in London. In Birmingham, a nineteen year old Noel Coward appears in the Jacobean comedy The Knight of the Burning Pestle.
  • 1923: Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, directed by H.K.Ayliff, becomes the first production of Shakespeare to be staged in modern dress.
  • 1925: Barry Jackson is knighted for services to theatre.
  • 1926: Laurence
  • 1926: Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson make their professional stage debuts in Birmingham.
  • 1929 – 1937: Sir Barry Jackson becomes director of the Malvern Festival
  • 1931: A pioneering series of radio dramas are broadcasts from the Old Rep Theatre.
  • 1934: At Christmas the première of 1066 and All That becomes the greatest financial hit The REP has ever had. During the run Sir Barry agrees to transfer his interest to a Trust and effectively gives The REP to the City of Birmingham as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Limited.
  • 1935: Gift of the theatres to Birmingham City Council
  • 1940: The REP’s wardrobe building in Hinkley Street is destroyed by incendiary bombs. Thirty years of sets and costumes go up in flames. In December the theatre closes.
  • 1945: Peter Brook makes his directorial debut with Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw.
  • 1946: Sir Barry Jackson becomes Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford
  • 1950: Alan Badel, John Neville, Eric Porter and Donald Pleasance are all in the Birmingham company.
  • 1954: The first Arts Council grant of £500 is awarded to The REP.
  • 1960: Since 1913 142 new plays have premiered at The REP
  • 1955: Sir Barry Jackson given Freedom of the City
  • 1957: Albert Finney plays Henry V.
  • 1961: On 3 April Sir Barry Jackson dies
  • 1963: The REP celebrates its 50th birthday with a ten week Shakespeare festival. Derek Jacobi plays Henry V, Troilus in Troilus and Cressida and Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus. By June swinging sixties icon Julie Christie is a member of the company.
  • 1965: Peter Dews becomes Artistic Director
  • 1967: New Artistic Director Peter Dews directs a modern Carnaby Street-style As You Like It with Brian Cox, Timothy Dalton and Oliver Ford-Davies in the cast.
  • 1970: The Old Rep closes on 16 December with a final production of1066 And All That.
  • 1970: Construction of the new REP building on Broad Street gets underway.
  • 1971: The new REP opens on Broad Street with a heroically-proportioned stage and a fan-shaped auditorium which seats 901. Princess Margaret attends a Royal Gala performance of First Impressions, a musical version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice featuring Patricia Routledge as Mrs Bennett in October 1971.
  • 1972: The REP’s Studio Theatre opens.
  • 1976: Clive Perry becomes Artistic Director
  • 1977: In the Studio David Edgar’s play Mary Barnes is given its world première with a cast which includes Patti Love, Simon Callow, Timothy Spall and Roger Allam.
  • 1978: At Christmas Worzel Gummidge by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall based on the popular children’s television series is a huge success in Birmingham and transfers to London starring Jon Pertwee as the lovable scarecrow Worzel and Una Stubbs as his disdainful beloved Aunt Sally.
  • 1982: At Christmas Noelle Gordon well-known from the Midlands television soap Crossroads gives a barnstorming central performance in a lavish production of the musical Call Me Madam.
  • 1987: John Adams becomes Artistic Director
  • 1988: Kenneth Branagh with his new Renaissance Company take over the Studio to present three plays by Shakespeare directed by celebrated actors. As You Like It is directed by Geraldine McEwan. Judi Dench directs Much Ado About Nothing and Derek Jacobi directs Branagh as Hamlet.
  • 1992: Bill Alexander becomes Artistic Director
  • 1993: For Christmas new Artistic Director Bill Alexander strikes gold when he directs the firstperformances of The Snowman based on Raymond Briggs’ best-selling children’s story.
  • 1994: Gwenda Hughes’ production of the exuberant Caribbean musical Once on this Island wins an Olivier Award for Best Musical after it transfers toLondon.
  • 1995: The appointment of The REP’s first Literary Manager, Ben Payne, signals the growing emphasis on the development of new plays.
  • 1996: The REP’s creative partnership with the British Asian company Tamasha peaks with the première of Ayub Khan Din’s play East is East which goes on to achieve national and international success on stage and screen.
  • 1997: The REP wins a Lottery grant of over £5.5 million to enable much-needed refurbishment and repair especially to the main auditorium.
  • 1998: Bill Alexander directs the première of Bryony Lavery’s play Frozen. With Josie Lawrence, Anita Dobson and Tom Georgeson, it is a major critical success and is subsequently revived at the National Theatre.The Studio is relaunched as The Door dedicated exclusively to new writing.
  • 2000: The Millennium year is celebrated with 9 new plays at The REP. Alexander’s final autumn season includes a double bill ofTwelfth Night and Hamlet and Indhu Rubasingham directs an exuberant version of the Indian epic The Ramayana.
  • 2001: Jonathan Church becomes Artistic Director.
  • 2002:  Jonathan Church directs Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men starring Matthew Kelly and George Costigan to rave reviews and sold out signs. The production transfers to the West End and Matthew Kelly is awarded the Laurence Olivier award for Best Actor.
  • 2002: Wallop Mrs Cox, a boisterous musical play about Birmingham’s Bull Ring market traders with a cast of community actors sells out at The REP in July and is hailed with standing ovations.
  • 2004: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti (Dishonour) receives its world premiere but after thirteen performances the run is forced to end following public protests by members of the Sikh community.
  • 2006: Birmingham City
  • 2005: Rachel Kavanaugh becomes Artistic Director
  • 2008: The REP welcomes plans for a joint development of the theatre with the new Library of Birmingham.
  • 2009: Dennis Kelly’s electrifying new play, Orphans is awarded a prestigious 2009 Fringe First Award and a herald Angel Award. Also, East Is East, the BAFTA award-winning comedy, returns to Birmingham Repertory Theatre in a new production, this time in the Main House.
  • 2010: Graffiti artist Mohammed Ali is commissioned by The REP to develop Writing on the Wall, a one-night only aerosol art and spoken word performance marking the closure of The REP’s set design and construction workshops.
  • 2011: The REP’s building closes for two years as part of the Library of Birmingham development. The REP presents first off-site programme.
  • 2013: Roxana Silbert becomes Artistic Director.
  • 2013: After more than 3000 plays and over 50,000 performances The REP celebrates a century of theatre on February 15th at the Old Rep Theatre on Station Street, its original home.
  • 2013: Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Broad Street re-opens on September 3rd, with a new 300 seat Studio Theatre to complement its existing two auditoria, new set design and construction workshops, dressing rooms and rehearsal rooms.