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Do you know the score? 20 facts about local theatre


  • The first record of Coventry’s cycle of mystery plays, the most famous in England, dates from 1392, but there’s evidence that they were being performed some 40 years earlier.

  • There were 10 plays in all, covering the human story from Creation to Doomsday and performed by the city’s artisan and merchant guilds on pageants (wagons) at ‘stations’ in the streets. Only two plays survive.

  • Among the audiences who gathered on the feast of Corpus Christi in June to see them, was every monarch from Henry V to Elizabeth I, except Edward IV and Edward VI.

  • In an increasingly Puritan city, the plays were suppressed in 1579 for being too closely associated with the old religion, Catholicism.

  • The city’s Hock Tuesday play, celebrating the defeat of the Danes in 1002 and performed on the second Tuesday after Easter from 1416, was suppressed ten years later.

  • It is highly likely that the young William Shakespeare (Pictured) managed to see the mystery plays before they disappeared, as there are references that appear to come from them in a number of his plays.

  • It’s almost certain too, that as an actor he performed in St Mary’s Hall, most likely for Lord Pembroke’s company in the early 1590s.

  • For more than century, the Shakespeare family showed visitors around the Bard’s birthplace in Stratford, but in September 1769, the actor David Garrick staged a Shakespeare Jubilee in the town, beginning Stratford’s development as a tourist attraction.

  • Sarah Siddons, the greatest actress of the 18th century stage, made a number of appearances in St Mary’s Hall in Coventry and was married at Holy Trinity church in the city centre.

  • In 1819, a Coventry businessman named Skears Rew erected Coventry’s first purpose-built theatre behind his plumbing and glazing business in Smithford Street.

  • In 1828, the American Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello on the English stage, was hired to manage the theatre for a season.

  • Ellen Terry, the biggest female star of the Victorian stage (pictured below) was born in theatrical digs in Market Street, Coventry on 27 February 1847, while her parents were performing in the city.

  • In 1875, Stratford brewer Charles Flower gave two acres of land on which to build a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, with a permanent subsidised company of actors.

  • It opened four years later, burned down in 1926 and was replaced in 1932 by a second theatre, designed by a woman, the architect Elizabeth Scott.

  • The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, opened in 1958, was named after the capital of Yugoslavia, which had made a gift of wood to be used in the building.

  • In its early years, the theatre pioneered new works by writers Arnold Wesker and David Turner and launched the careers of many actors and directors, among them Trevor Nunn, Ian McKellen and Richard Briers.

  • In 1964, the Belgrade pioneered Theatre In Education, now a world-wide movement bringing theatre into schools.

  • Leamington Spa’s Royal Spa Centre was opened in 1972 by the former Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, the town’s MP for almost thirty-five years.

  • The theatre at Warwick Arts Centre, opened in 1974, is best known for its close and continuing collaboration with the French-based theatre director Peter Brook.

  • In 2016, the Playbox Theatre in Warwick celebrated 30 years as a theatre and performing arts company for young people in Warwickshire.

Winner!