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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: March 2008

3 - Provincial stages, 1900–1934: touring and early repertory theatre

from Part I - 1895–1946


In the queer nondescript world of the theatre – neither art nor trade – today is a time of unrest …The old unhasting dynasties find themselves less secure …new managements are essayed …and there is a general disposition towards experiment …New theatres spring up, each more palatial than the last, as often as not in a world that has no use for them …There is even talk of a New Drama to put in them …and …the proud predominance of London itself …has been rudely shaken by a growing disposition on the part of the provincial capitals to provide a drama for themselves.

P. P. Howe’s description of the state of British theatre in the last years of the Edwardian era is, with hindsight, both true and misleading. What is missing from his view is the later perception that this was both a luxuriant, golden era for theatre and a period of ideological and aesthetic ‘revolution’. Critics and chroniclers, born in the late nineteenth century and growing up in the British provinces, often write with passion of their early experiences of the actor-managers who visited their towns and cities. But they also decry the commercial ‘revolution’ that mostly destroyed the actor-manager system after World War One, as well as championing the fragmented experiments that brought about another type of ‘revolutionary change in the character of the theatre’ in Britain. Allardyce Nicoll describes this new theatre as ‘possessed of an animating spirit the like of which the nineteenth century … had never known.’