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50 Years of History

Take a trip down memory lane as we look back on 50 years on Centenary Square.

The 70s


In October, The Rep’s new theatre on Broad Street opens. The new stage is one of the largest in Europe, and the fan-shaped auditorium seats 901.


The Rep’s new Studio Theatre ‘The Brum’ opens, becoming an example of innovative theatre nationwide, aimed at young audiences and showcasing new writing. Grab, written from company improvisation by Albert Lyons, is followed by the world premiere of Death Story written by Birmingham-born David Edgar.


Up Spaghetti Junction, an affectionate historical send-up of Birmingham, casts Nigerian Olu Jacobs, the first black actor to appear on The Rep stage.


Michael Simpson directs the British premiere of the epic play Blues, Whites and Reds about the French Revolution by the Lyon-based director Roger Planchon.


Trinity Tales (Or The Road To Wembley) by Alan Plater has its world premiere.


Alan Rickman and David Suchet make a dynamic duo as Holmes and Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes.


Bill Pryde directs The Seed by Derek Nicholls and Ray Speakman, the first production to explore the lives of the Pakistani community in Birmingham. It features Asian actors Renu Setna and Darien Angadi.


In the Studio, the cast of the world premiere of David Edgar’s play Mary Barnes includes Patti Love in the title role, Simon Callow, Timothy Spall and Roger Allam. The play then transfers to the Royal Court in London.


Janet Suzman, Ian McDiarmid and Peter Eyre star in The Duchess Of Malfi.

The 80s


The Christmas production is Worzel Gummidge by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, based on the popular children’s television series. It stars Jon Pertwee as Scarecrow Worzel and Una Stubbs as Aunt Sally. The show is a huge success and transfers to London.


Leonard Bernstein’s opera Candide, based on the play by Voltaire, is presented at the Edinburgh Festival and then opens the new theatre’s tenth anniversary gala season.


The world premiere of Strictly Entre Nous based on the life, times and loves of W.H. Auden.


The American Clock by Arthur Miller has its British premiere in April. Directed by Peter Farago, it looks at the impact of the 1930s depression on an American family.


The world premiere of Origin Of The Species by Bryone Lavery, about an archaeologist who discovers a 4000 year old woman.


Clive Perry sets up the first Young Company – a group of young actors, some straight from drama school, employed for the 1985/6 season. They play in a variety of productions in both the main auditorium and the Studio and also out in their own minibus. The company includes Iain Glen and Devon Scott, the daughter of Hollywood star George C. Scott.


The income of the Sir Barry Jackson Trust is dramatically increased when the about-to-be abolished West Midlands Metropolitan County Council donates a large sum for the promotion of small-scale community touring in the region.


John Burrows’ One Big Blow, supported by the Barry Jackson Trust, opens in September and visits 23 colleges and community centres.


The Spring of 1988 brings a season of Shakespeare plays directed by well-known actors. Dame Judi Dench directs Much Ado About Nothing, Geraldine McEwan directs As You Like It and Sir Derek Jacobi directs Sir Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet. The productions continue in repertoire into June, before going on tour, which includes playing Hamlet in Elsinore.


The community play Heartlanders in staged in October. Written collaboratively by Stephen Bill, Anne Devlin and David Edgar for the City of Birmingham’s centenary year, it involves 300 local people, mostly amateurs, in celebration of Birmingham’s diversity.

Appointed in December, 1988, Gwenda Hughes takes up her role as Associate Director, becoming the first woman within the leading members of the artistic team in the history of The Rep.

The 90s


Gwenda Hughes directs JB Priestly’s comedy When We Are Married.


Princess Margaret attends a gala performance of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera in the refurbished and extended Rep, to link with the opening of the ICC in April and the development of Broad Street this year. Anthony Clark’s vast scale production highlights the huge acting area of The House, while Kate Burnett’s designs satirise materialism and corruption.


The world premiere of Biko. 


The Rep’s Artistic Director Bill Alexander directs the first performance of Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman. Not only will it become The Rep’s most successful long-running show – 29 years and counting! – it will also become the longest running Christmas show in the West End at The Peacock Theatre.


European premiere of Caribbean musical Once On This Island, is directed by Gwenda Hughes. starring Sharon D Clarke as Asaka. The show transfers to the West End, winning an Olivier Award for Best Musical .


The double bill of Macbeth and Congreve’s Way Of The World uses the same company – with Jeffrey Kissoon as Macbeth and Jamie Purefoy and Rakie Ayola as Millamant and Mirabell.


Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East premieres at The Rep. It goes on to enjoy national and international success before returning to Birmingham for its 25th anniversary in 2021.


Tamasha Theatre’s A Tainted Dawn marks the 50th anniversary of India’s partition.


Bill Alexander directs Frozen, the stunning premiere of Byony Lavery’s play about child kidnap and murder. 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.


The Pajama Games, a Simon Callow directed production in May, is a fresh take on an enduring story. John Hegley plays Vernon J Hines and duets to Anita Dobson to the delight of audiences. Ulrika Jonsson adds to the celebrity casting that helps to make this the most expensive show that The Rep had ever done.

The 2000s

A production photo from The Ramayana


Indhu Rubasingham directs an exuberant version of the Indian epic The Ramayana.


Matthew Kelly receives an Olivier Award for Lennie in Of Mice And Men the previous year.


Stephanie Beecham’s costume for Elizabeth Rex, created by The Rep’s Head of Wardrobe Sue Nightingale, is the most expensive costume ever made at The Rep and is still a firm favourite on backstage tours to this day.


The Madness of George III by Alan Bennett is shown on The Rep’s stage.


The Rep’s Children initiative launched. It gives hundreds of babies born at two Birmingham hospitals in October free theatre until they are ten years old.


Kwame Kwei-Armah stars in a production of his play Elmina’s Kitchen.

Rachel Kavanuagh is appointed Artistic Director, making her the first woman to hold the position at The Rep.


Sean Foley plays Sigmund Freud in Hysteria. He will go on to become The Rep’s Artistic Director in 2019.


Wayne Sleep as the EMcee leads the season-opening production of Cabaret.


Rachel Kavanaugh directs a two part stage adaptation of His Dark Materials based on the trilogy of novels by Phillip Pullman.

The 2010s


Arthur & George, adapted for the stage by David Edgar, receives its world premiere.


Roxana Silbert is appointed Artistic Director.


Forests, produced in association with Barcelona Internacional Teatro and the RSC, is presented at The Old Rep as part of the World Theatre Company.


The Foundry, a development programme for theatre artists, is established.

The Rep’s centenary is celebrated in February with events at the Old Rep and in the city.

In September, the refurbished Rep reopens alongside the new Library of Birmingham. Soweto Kinch’s The Legend Of Mike Smith opens the new auditorium, The Studio.

A production photo from Rudy's Rare Records


Rep ambassador Lenny Henry stars in Rudy’s Rare Records. 


At Christmas, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe becomes The Rep’s most successful production to date!


The Government Inspector marks The Rep’s first collaboration with Ramps On The Moon. 


One Love – The Bob Marley Musical, has the audience on its feet, accompanied by exhibitions in The Rep and the library.


Penguins, based on the true story of two male Chinstrap penguins at Central Park Zoo, charms The Rep’s youngest audiences.


The Rep’s renowned youth theatre, The Young Rep stage Jekyll And Hyde and receives a 5 star review from The Guardian.

Sean Foley is appointed Artistic Director.

The 2020s


The Faustus story is reworked in Faustus That Damned Woman. It will be the last play on the main stage before lockdown in March 2020.


The Rep celebrates the 50th anniversary of our home on Centenary Square, as well as being back on stage. This special birthday season launched with East Is East, returning for its own 25th anniversary.