RepositorySpecial Collections Archives (GB 0029)
Ref NoEUL MS 348
Extent15 bays, 2 shelves, 1 outsize box (70 linear metres approx)
TitleNorthcott Theatre Archive
Description The Northcott Theatre archive comprises administrative, marketing, outreach and production records spanning the period from its opening in 1967 to its refurbishment in 2007, with a small number of items from 2007-2010. The collection also includes a small amount of records from the earlier Theatre Royal, Exeter [EUL MS 348/MISC/TR].

Content Note: Please note that this collection includes images and material that may be uncomfortable for researchers to view. This includes images of blackface, the use of cultural stereotypes, and offensive historical language/ viewpoints, particularly with regards to marginalised communities.
Admin HistoryThe history of live entertainment in Exeter can be traced back to the Roman occupation of the city, with evidence of an amphitheatre on Dane's Hill. Between the 13th and 18th centuries, plays were performed by groups of strolling players, and in 1721 the first regular theatre venue in Exeter opened, which was a room in the Seven Stars Inn. In 1735, the first purpose-built theatre opened; The Exeter Theatre in Waterbeare Street. A series of buildings were subsequently destroyed by fire, until the Theatre Royal in Longbrook Street opened in 1889. This venue was active until its closure, and demolition of the building, in 1962. Early that same year, G.V. Northcott entered negotiations with the Board of Directors of the Theatre Royal in an attempt to re-create it as a Theatre and Arts Centre. A site at Exeter University was offered, which had been earmarked for a theatre on the University's Development Plan. Northcott established a Trust with a benefaction of £100,000 (later supplemented by a gift of £50,000 from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and by other bodies), to establish the Northcott Devon Theatre and Arts Centre. The architects were Sir William Holford and Partners and the theatre consultant was Michael Warre.

The theatre opened with a production of The Merchant of Venice, starring Tony Church, its first Artistic Director, on 2nd November 1967. Very soon after the opening of the new theatre, the abolition of censorship on the stage in 1968 enabled more freedom of production and this was reflected in its artistic direction. For example, Howard Brenton's production of 'Measure for Measure' in 1972 was set in a strip club and described in the newspapers as bawdy and seedy. Early directors, including Tony Church and his successor, Jane Howell, also fostered new talent in writing at the theatre in the late 1960s and early 1970s and this continued through to the 1980s. Jane Howell's tenure included three Edward Bond plays, two of which, 'Bingo' and 'The Pope's Wedding', were peformed in public for the first time at the Northcott. The theatre has also fostered its share of acting talent. Among the many actors who have performed there are Lysette Anthony, Honor Blackman, Michael Denison, Dulcie Gray, Celia Imrie, Geraldine James, Robert Lindsay, John Nettles, Bob Peck, Diana Rigg, Imelda Staunton and David Suchet. In more recent years the theatre has faced many challenges, including cuts in the 1980s, and the threat of loss of funding from the Arts Council England (ACE) in 2007. At the threat of closure, an appeal and public campaign was launched to save the theatre and it received a funding reprieve from ACE for two years, in 2008. However, legacy financial accounting problems forced the trustees to place it into administration on 25 February 2010. On 5 June 2010 it was confirmed by administrators that a new company had been set up, the Exeter Northcott Theatre Company, formed with the University of Exeter, and the immediate future of the theatre is now more secure.

The Northcott Theatre was founded as a 433 seat theatre,but later increased to 464 during refurbishment in 2006/2007. The Northcott was built as a receiving house, but launched as a repertory theatre and spent several decades with a strong repertory company. Northcott Repertory company members often directed as well as acted and many actors/ production staff went on to well known careers. Maurice Marshall, an early lighting designer at the Northcott later set up the well known Stage Electrics company. By Ben Crocker's time as Artistic Director in 1998 it was still a producing theatre (with around 9 or 10 in house/co-productions a year), but the repertory company had waned. Emmanuel Hall in St. Thomas, Exeter was used as a venue for rehearsal and studio type productions from the early 1970's, particularly for Theatre in Education performances, such as Northcott Young People’s Company productions. The hall was purchased in 1977 to be used as a rehearsal space and costume store, later becoming home to Theatre Alibi from 1982. The dedicated Northcott Studio Season launched in 1987 and Emmanuel Hall relaunched as Northcott Studio Theatre 14 Feb 1989.

See EUL MS 348/2 - a collated file of general information on the Northcott Theatre for more information. Please note that a spreadsheet listing all events at the Northcott by opening night (as far as could be ascertained during compilation) is also available.

ARTISTIC DIRECTORS OF THE NORTHCOTT THEATRE (more information can be found in a short info sheet on previous artistic directors)

Tony Church 1967 - 1970
Associate director: Robin Phillips
Writer in Residence: Bernard Goss

Jane Howell 1971-1973
Associate Directors: Jack Emery & Kevin Robinson

Geoffrey Reeves 1974-1977
Associate Director: Clive Barker

Richard Digby Day 1978-1980
Associate Directors: Michael Winter & Crispin Thomas

Stewart Trotter 1981-1985

George Roman 1986 -1990
Associate Director: Martin Harvey

John Durnin 1991 - 1998
Associate Director: Tim Carroll
Assistant Directors: Charlotte Conquest & Gillian King
Writer in Residence: Robert Shearman

Ben Crocker 1998 - 2008

Rebecca Manson Jones 2009 - 2010 (Re-titled - Creative Director)

Kate Tyrell 2010-2014 (Re-titled - Executive Director)

Paul Jepson 2015-2018 (Re-titled - Artistic and Executive Director)

Daniel Buckroyd 2018-
Access StatusOpen
Related MaterialSee also:
EUL MS 468 - Collection of recordings of Northcott Theatre productions 1967-1999
EUL MS 372 - box of slides from first production in the papers of Roderick Ross
EUL MS 383 - Collection of negatives, slides and films of Northcott Theatre productions, along with an oral history from theatre photographer Nicholas Toyne
EUL MS 384 - Small collection of Northcott Theatre programmes.
EUL MS 202 - Collection of playbills from the Theatre Royal, Exeter (predecessor to the Northcott Theatre)
EUL MS 489 - Cygnet Theatre and Monica Shallis Collection
EUL MS 497 - Marston Collection of Northcott Theatre Programmes
EUL UA - The University archive may possibly include material relating to student societies that performed at the Northcott
EUL UA DRO - Pamphlet 'The Seventh Star' containing a short history of theatre in Exeter prior to the Northcott Theatre

Material from the Northcott Theatre is also present at Devon Heritage Centre, particularly in:
5004G - Friends of the Northcott Theatre Collection
4110Z - White Collection
Access ConditionsUsual EUL conditions apply. Some records may be closed under the Data Protection Act, 1998.
ArrangementThe material had no discernable arrangment when catalogued. Arrangement has been based around the different departmental functions of the Theatre.
Finding_AidsSee electronic deposit folder for guidance on previous Artistic Directors, a guide to which photographers operated when, and a spreadsheet of previous productions
Creator_NameExeter; Exeter Northcott Theatre Company; 1967-
Mgt_GroupPerforming arts papers
DS/UK/292Exeter; Exeter Northcott Theatre Company; 1967-1967-
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