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History of the Nottingham New Theatre

The Nottingham New Theatre is a playhouse and production company based on University Park campus, Nottingham, England. It is funded in part by the University of Nottingham Students’ Union and constitutes one of the Union’s Media Groups (alongside University Radio Nottingham, Nottingham Student Television Station, Impact Magazine, and TEC PA and Lighting).

It is the only entirely student-run theatre in England, with around 25 individual shows across two seasons per academic year, spanning 6 performances a week, to total around 100 live performances every year.

With a long and rich history, the Nottingham New Theatre has had a steady stream of members through its doors across many departments for the last 70 years.

1926 - Nottingham Student Players

Before the Nottingham New Theatre was Dramsoc, and before Dramsoc was Nottingham Student Players. Occasionally including staff alongside students, Nottingham Student Players put on drama and musicals, such as Aucassin and Nicolete (June 4-5th 1926).

1927 - Formation of Dramsoc

Old auditiorium

The University College Nottingham Dramatic Society (Dramsoc) performed its first play in 1928: A.A. Milne’s Mr Pim Passes By.

The society offered members an opportunity to read, discuss, produce and enact plays.

1940s - Formation of TEC

Previously The University of Nottingham Technical Executive Committee, and now TEC PA and Lighting, this group had oversight of a number of departments across the university and Students’ Union. The Stage Productions Department was responsible for lighting and sound in the student theatre.

The SPD Manager also served as Technical Director of Dramsoc, in addition to overseeing the electrics at the annual University Opera, performed in the Great Hall of Trent Building.

1945 - Earliest New Theatre Graduate

The earliest graduate in our records. Think you can beat that? Just drop us a line.

1958 - Nottingham's Everyman Club

Nottingham’s Everyman Club was formed in 1958, to encourage students and local people in the city, who were interested in theatre, to collaborate on productions. The club had some notable successes in the 1960s.

1960s - Golden Age of Dramsoc

The production of Coriolanus reached the finals of the National Student Drama Competition, while The Taming of the Shew enjoyed a week-long tour of Germany. The society also took George Bernard Shaw’s St Joan to the outdoor Minack Theatre in Cornwall.

1966 - Earliest 'New Theatre' Record

While not called the ‘New Theatre’, this is the earliest record of student theatre in Nottingham. At this time, members of the University of Nottingham Technical Committee were responsible for the technical areas of the student theatre.

1975 - Student Drama Festival

‘Chicago’ and ‘Icarus’ Mother’, both by Sam Shepard, were selected to be performed at the Student Drama Festival. This was held at the Royal Court in London.

1980s - Disbandment, and the Nottingham Theatre Group

While Dramsoc was disbanded, all was not lost for theatre at Nottingham. The Nottingham Theatre Group (while not receiving any financial support from the Students’ Union) was formed to present an annual revue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

These shows were developed and previewed in New Theatre. NTG would typically rent a venue in Edinburgh and fit it out as a temporary theatre, sub-letting the space and equipment to other Fringe groups such as Durham Student Theatre or Bristol Revunions.

1988 - New Theatre shut for safety reasons

The New Theatre had been shut down for safety reasons. It had been operating as a theatre but had no theatre licence and no emergency lighting and possibly other issues. Although the theatre was run by students, it was owned by the University. It took a year of negotiating to get the University to part with enough money to get the theatre open again. They installed emergency lighting and it was agreed that we did not need a theatre licence on the proviso that we did not advertise productions off-campus. Only students and staff of Nottingham University were allowed to buy tickets.

From Autumn 1988 to Autumn 1989 productions took part in other parts of the university. The theatre opened again in Autumn 1990.

1993 - Dramsoc Reunion

Reunion event that was part organised by Hugh Simon in ‘93. It was held at the house of Nick Williams in Clapham, London on Sat 26 Jun ‘93. Many alumni attended, including (there were many others!):

  • Nick Williams
  • Hugh Simon
  • Nick Frost
  • Eileen Coan
  • Phil Barnes
  • Kevin Buxton
  • Haydn Gwynne
  • John Thewlis
  • John Schwiller

Nick Frost (Farrell) said he had to leave at 10pm as he had to be in a shower with Michael Kitchen at 8am on the Sunday. Several months later ‘To Play the King’ with Ian Richardson launched on TV with Michael playing The King.

2001 - A New Foyer

First foyer

Thanks to a gracious alumni donation, we were able to fund the construction of our foyer. This housed internal access to the Box Office, toilets, and bar. Its glass exterior created a fresh and open environment for all visitors.

2011 - UNCUT

Another season of shows allows for more opportunity, and the UNCUT Season—now Fringe—is just that. Providing a platform for experimental, new, or more intimate theatre, this season runs parallel to the In House season. The majority of initial performances were located outside of the Theatre.

2012 - Demolition of Archaeology

The New Theatre was, up till this point, housed within the department of Archaeology and Classics. Over the summer, the New Theatre became its own freestanding building—now a popular campus landmark. Among several other rooms the foyer was given a generous extension.

2012 - Studios A and B (and more rooms!)

Studio B

Our small blackbox studios—used as rehearsal rooms, meeting spaces, performance venues, and occasional bar—were created.

The costume cupboard and props corridor were also refurbished, providing some long-needed new space.

Matthew Bannister also launched the Seat Dedication Appeal.

2012 - The Nottingham New Theatre

Following a members’ vote, The New Theatre became The Nottingham New Theatre, and a new logo was born. This change was made to better represent the theatre on the national stage.

2013 - Nottingham New Theatre meets Lakeside Arts

In the first of what would become an annual partnership, the students of New Theatre collaborated with the professional theatremakers at Lakeside Arts, another on-campus theatre, to perform Lysistrata.

2015 - STUFF

The first year of the STUdent Fringe Festival—STUFF—paved the way for future years. An Edinburgh preview event, including shows from external production companies, including Nottingham New Theatre alumni, all coming together to end the summer term on campus.

2016 - 50th Anniversary

The Nottingham New Theatre’s inaugural alumni dinner took place for the theatre’s 50th Anniversary. Over 100 alumni guests were welcomed to tours of the theatre spaces, followed by a formal dinner in the Great Hall and Senate Chamber.

2017 - Unscripted

Unscripted allows students of any and all experience to take part in the theatre life. With no auditions, the group produces a semi-devised piece. The first performance, held in February, was Camp MacBeth.

2020 - COVID

With the cancellation of all in-person theatre and the closure of many university and Students’ Union buildings, the theatre was forced to innovate and joined many other theatrical venues and companies by moving performances to an online format.

2021 - Back to Live Theatre

After presenting two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, Nottingham New Theatre returns to in-person live theatre after an 18 month absence. Thanks to the hard work of the Committee, the building was made a ‘COVID Safe’ environment for students, friends, and family to once again come together and experience the thrill of live theatre.

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