December 18, 2013, by Kathryn Steenson
All the World’s a Stage!
Panto season is upon us, and families across the country will be visiting theatres to enjoy this predominantly British form of entertainment. Those of you who follow us on Twitter @mssUniNott may have seen the programme for a performance of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ staged by University College Nottingham students one hundred years ago today.
Lewis Carroll’s classic tale remains a panto favourite, both as a relatively faithful telling of the story and inspiring adaptions, as shown in this poster advertising the family pantomime ”Alice: The Queen of Hearts’ Revenge”. In this version, the Queen of Hearts wants to destroy every copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, but a modern day (1993!) Alice arrives to try to stop her.
This adaption was staged by the New Perspectives Theatre Company (not to be confused with the student-run New Theatre). This is an independent touring theatre company based in the East Midlands. Originally called Key Perspectives, it was set up by five graduates in 1972 as a Theatre-in-Education programme.
The New Perspectives Theatre advertised themselves as a multi-racial and mixed gender company at a time when inclusivity and equality were rather more novel concepts. The emphasis placed on developing new regional writing talent means much of their work was original, and many of the scripts are in the archive. Their early works had a strong social and educational theme and reveal what the issues of the day were, both locally and nationally. They ranged from educational plays performed in schools for young children about road safety, to plays for adults in village halls about nuclear war, the effects of unemployment on the local community, and gender stereotyping – as well as the light-hearted festive fare!
The archive is deposited (i.e. on loan) and spans the period from the 1970s to 2005. It includes administrative and financial records as well as documents and photographs from each production, and is remarkably complete, especially considering the Company is still active. The production files are particularly rich, and include photographs, touring schedules, reviews and publicity materials. Plays aimed at schoolchildren or teenagers are often accompanied by teaching packs or workshop notes, and plays with a heavy musical slant include cassettes of the songs and music.
Over the last year, we, the New Perspectives Theatre, and staff from the School of English were involved in the ‘Hidden Collections’ initiative. This was an Arts & Humanities Research Council funded project for PhD students from several different universities to explore ways of revealing archival assets and encourage public engagement using digital technologies. There were several different areas for participants to examine, including images and objects, and we were involved with those who opted to do the theatre strand. As part of it, we were able to employ a postgraduate intern for a few weeks to improve the New Perspectives Theatre Collection catalogue, particularly the descriptions of photographs.
For more information about the New Perspectives Theatre and to see their current touring schedule, please visit their website. As a modern collection, some of the New Perspectives Theatre records are closed under the Data Protection Act, or whilst further cataloguing takes place. The remainder can be viewed in the Reading Room at King’s Meadow Campus, along with our other Literary and Cultural Collections.
Manuscripts and Special Collections will be closing on Friday 20th December 2013 and reopening on Thursday 2nd January 2014. We would like to wish all our readers a happy Christmas.