Welcome to the website of our two research projects, the first fully funded academic studies of amateur theatre in the UK.

The Exhibition Part Two – Navy Amateurs: in the Archive and on the Stage

Added on by Helen Nicholson.

Curating an exhibition provided the perfect opportunity for us to share some of the amazing materials of amateur theatre-making we have collected over the course of the project. Over the last three years, I have spent many an hour ordering boxes of papers, large scrapbooks, diaries and bound commission books in naval archives around the country in the hope of finding those sparkling gems of evidence among the dust. On the 17th of September, I was able to share some of those exciting finds.

From the dark, cool, and dry surrounds of the archives to the system of folders on my computer’s hard drive, images of publicity materials, programmes, photographs, and newspaper cuttings finally made their way to the light, airy foyer of Royal Holloway. It was a moment of anticipation for me. The bedrock of my PhD research was going on display. 

My PhD thesis traces the development and longevity of 20th century amateur theatricals in the Royal Navy at sea. I have uncovered a wide repertoire of theatrical performances, a variety of performance spaces (including aircraft hangars, Nissen huts and mess-decks!), and fascinating personal testimonies of participation. I tried to capture the breadth of this research on the display boards. From photographs of auditoria at sea constructed at the turn of the 20th century to sketches of SODs Operas at Scapa Flow, these once disparate archival materials were placed side by side for all to compare.

The most exciting part of the exhibition for me was to see the two display boards I had designed together. For the first time, my material was shown alongside snapshots of Nadine Holdsworth’s research examining current amateur theatre practices in the Navy. Images of Royal Naval Theatre Association events from the recent past hung adjacent to the material evidence of the amateur theatre-making in the Navy that preceded it decades before. It was wonderful to see this material side by side. From 1899 to 2016, black and white to colour photographs, exclusively male communities to serving men and women, performances on land and at sea. One thing, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains the same – a chorus of men in wigs and dresses is still a firm favourite!

If you've read this post and you have any thoughts or reflections that you want to share - please do get in touch. 

Sarah Penny