Over the past year, one of our archival volunteers has been meticulously appraising, cataloguing, and rehousing our large archival collection of drama and music records.
Our volunteer’s hard work has allowed us, for the first time, to see a catalogue of the entire collection, and to have accurate information on what we have available in our archive. The collection spans from 1903 (an oversize photograph of the 1903 production of The Cyclops is the earliest item in this collection), to the current academic year (including a programmes of this year’s production of The Addams Family). The records in question include photographs, programmes, negatives, letters, order forms, tickets, and posters.
More unusual items from the School’s long history of drama and dance have also survived, finding their way into the school archive over the years. The records of the December 1934 production of the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, The Sorcerer, contain a particularly unique item. While this production dates from a period where Gilbert and Sullivan operas dominated the drama schedule of Brighton College, and therefore the drama records of the time, what makes this production’s records unique is that it contains a handmade notebook, complete with production notes. While the records of most of the period’s productions are limited to photographs and newspaper clippings, this notebook provides a valuable insight into how these productions were organised and carried out.
Even the cover of this handmade notebook stands out, as the author designed his own version of the title, with the ‘S’ in Sorcerer taking the shape of a serpent, complete with an extended tongue. What follows is an amalgamation of an edited script of The Sorcerer, complete with handwritten edits and comments, and additional pages of detailed instructions for carrying out the opera. The instructions provided are certainly comprehensive, ranging from directions for how members of the cast should enter the stage and react in certain scenes, to how props and furniture are to be placed on the stage and used by cast members, to exact instructions for the colour and positioning of the lighting. After reading the notebook, it became clear to me just how much these productions were a labour of love for those involved. The amount of forward planning, effort, and passion, clearly documented on the pages of this notebook, are inspiring.
And it seems that the tremendous amount of work that went into this production paid off. Two newspaper clippings, containing reviews of the production, have survived in our archive, alongside the notebook and photographs, providing us with an overview of how College productions were viewed by the outside world at the time. Regarding The Sorcerer, both newspaper reports provide glowing praise. After praising individual performances in the production, tribute is paid to the production as a whole. One of the newspapers notes that the production ‘must have entailed an enormous amount of work,’ before praising the stage effects as ‘more than usually good’ at times, ‘especially in the finale, which very effectively went up in flames and smoke.’
It was very exciting to discover that this unique notebook had survived in our archive. The combination of the notebook, photographs, and newspaper clippings ensure that we will have a valuable record of a 1930s drama production, providing us with a detailed observation of how drama productions performed over 80 years ago were organised and carried out by staff and pupils at Brighton College.