Too much British theatre has indeed been forgotten

The lack of popular knowledge of British theatre history is much worse than Joanna Lumley thinks (A rebuke from stage left: young actors ignore our theatrical history, says Lumley, 4 March).

How many readers know Britain lived under government censorship of all publicly performed plays for 400 years until 1968, giving rise to our humorous obsession in this country with innuendo, often centred around suggestively shaped fruit and vegetables, to be slipped past the lord chamberlain’s censor?

Or that for the best part of 200 years until the 1840s, theatre was more or less banned from most places outside London, with its two or three licensed theatres, so rooting it out of popular culture, and reducing it to a pastime for the well-off in the know, and for the lowlifes and pickpockets who followed them, thus leaving it a patchy experience to this day for many?

Ellen Terry, who Ms Lumley bewails for being forgotten, is just a stop along the route less travelled or taught, although I did what I could to redress the balance in my time.
Mark Lewinski
(Retired drama teacher), Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire

• Joanna Lumley’s rebuke to young actors who ignore our theatre history was no doubt timely, but it appears she herself may have “walked past a door” that she should have opened.

As the new patron of the Barn Theatre, she probably knows that this performing space was created by Edith Craig, daughter of EW Godwin and Ellen Terry and sister of the famous theatrical guru, Edward Gordon Craig.

As I explain in the second volume of my recently published Illustrated History of British Theatre and Performance, Edith Craig, suffragette and socialist, was Britain’s finest female theatre director in the first half of the 20th century (some would say, simply Britain’s finest theatre director of the time).

Beginning with suffrage dramas, she went on to found the Pioneer Players in 1911, and staged plays about prostitution, poverty, exploitation and male violence, anti-war plays and a whole range of modernist avant-garde dramas by writers such as Nikolai Evreinov, Paul Claudel and Susan Glaspell. She was admired and loved by her actors in equal measure.

As George Bernard Shaw remarked after her death: “Gordon Craig has made himself the most famous producer in Europe by dint of never producing anything, while Edith Craig remains the most obscure by dint of producing everything.” It is time for her obscurity to be ended!

The Barn Theatre was created by Edith in her own home, which was not “Ellen Terry’s country home”. I trust the new patron of the Barn Theatre will promote the work of Edy Craig, the founder of the theatre, as much as – if not more than – that of her “starry” mother?
Robert Leach
Selkirk, Scottish Borders

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