There has been little attempt to place Margaret Rutherford (1892–1972) historically, other than in a trajectory or tradition of roles typically defined as ‘eccentrics’. Even Rutherford herself referred dismissively to ‘my usual dotty old lady stuff’. This chapter, however, engages with the paradox that ‘eccentricity’, which normally refers to unconventional views or behaviour, has its own set of theatrical characteristics and is, in fact, central to the English comic inheritance. A comparative analysis is made of some of the ‘classic’ female roles that Rutherford took on, alongside an exploration of some of the famous parts she initiated, in light of the work of other contemporaneous actresses who may be said to have carried on the eccentric tradition in their own distinctive ways.
Actresses, charity work and the early twentieth-century theatre profession
This chapter considers aspects of public charity work undertaken by actresses in the 1910s, focusing on their work selling for charitable causes within the commercial sector at Harrods department store in London. Charity labour has been overlooked in understandings of the theatre industry during this period, yet the considerable amount of voluntary work that actresses undertook was significant to the continuing improved social and cultural position of the British stage more generally. Charity work at home and overseas brought an increasing level of professionalisation to actresses’ work in the voluntary sector and wider recognition of the charitable activities they undertook.
Winifred Dolan worked as an actress, theatre administrator, teacher and producer. She outlined her early work in West End theatre in her memoir, A Chronicle of Small Beer, but this narrative does not cover her subsequent work as a drama teacher and producer of amateur theatre. This chapter examines Dolan’s West End practice as her formative experience and focuses on her subsequent career: teaching drama and designing suitable spaces for that teaching and for amateur productions. An analysis of the range of evidence left by Dolan reveals the rich and complex links between professional theatre work, the teaching profession and the amateur theatre movement in the first half of the twentieth century.
This concluding chapter analyses two works of outdoor installation art that exemplify the production of postindustrial space. Compagnie Fer à Coudre’s Floraferrique and Fabrice Giraud’s Le Murmure des Plantes 2.0 fuse natural flora with industrial aesthetics. This chapter examines the installations as street theatre, demonstrating how they invite spectatorial participation even as they create a doubled temporality that complicates the call to action. Through their interplay of human and non-human agency, engagement with ecology, and construction of alternate pasts and futures, these projects offer new insight into street theatre's temporal, spatial, and political work.
This chapter analyses the conversion of a rural factory (camera case manufacturer Photosacs in Corbigny) into an arts centre and base of operations for street theatre company Metalovoice, a project designed to transform Corbigny into a rural cultural hub. But it risks being intelligible as part of a scenario of development that has long subordinated rural workers (especially women) to urban markets and consumers. In response, Metalovoice position themselves as artisans with familial ties to industrial heritage. The discourses produced by and about a street theatre institution and the industrial aesthetics of Metalovoice's inaugural event are linked by the folded logic of reincorporation: material from the past is resurrected for use in the present, changing the meaning of past and present in the process. Attempts to refashion history by discursively and aesthetically linking industrial workers and artists might grant both groups symbolic clout, but they might also obscure the gendered specificities of a local labour history. Through an intentionally micro-level analysis – of one event at one factory in one small town – the chapter links street theatre’s present economic function to its ability to reorder people, spaces, and times.
This chapter analyses the discourses and practices of the creative economy and reveals its fraught relationship to forms of labour and leisure it has supposedly replaced. The conversion of the Nantes shipyards into a tourist and cultural destination and base of operations for street theatre company La Machine has reconfigured the site as both public space and workspace. In keeping with the model of the creative city, spectators are invited to actively participate in the project, but this chapter questions the nature of that participation. The chapter further demonstrates that La Machine company members must simultaneously be industrial workers and replace them; they embody past repertoires even as they herald a post-Fordist transition to affective or immaterial labour. Ultimately this urban redevelopment project and its theatrical components must promote the selective memory of industry's success while smoothing over the rupture of its collapse.
Stage women, 1900–50 explores the many ways in which women conceptualised, constructed and participated in networks of professional practice in the theatre and performance industries between 1900 and 1950. A timely volume full of original research, the book explores women’s complex negotiations of their agency over both their labour and public representation, and their use of personal and professional networks to sustain their careers. Including a series of case studies that explore a range of well-known and lesser-known women working in theatre, film and popular performance of the period. The volume is divided into two connected parts. ‘Female theatre workers in the social and theatrical realm’ looks at the relationship between women’s work – on- and offstage – and autobiography, activism, technique, touring, education and the law. Part II, ‘Women and popular performance’, focuses on the careers of individual artists, once household names, including Lily Brayton, Ellen Terry, radio star Mabel Constanduros, and Oscar-winning film star Margaret Rutherford. Overall, the book provides new and vibrant cultural histories of women’s work in the theatre and performance industries of the period.
Street theatre and the production of postindustrial space explores how street theatre transforms industrial space into postindustrial space. Deindustrializing communities have increasingly turned to cultural projects to commemorate industrial heritage while simultaneously generating surplus value and jobs in a changing economy. Through analysis of French street theatre companies working out of converted industrial sites, this book reveals how theatre and performance more generally participate in and make historical sense of ongoing urban and economic change. The book argues, firstly, that deindustrialization and redevelopment rely on the spatial and temporal logics of theatre and performance. Redevelopment requires theatrical events and performative acts that revise, resituate, and re-embody particular pasts. The book proposes working memory as a central metaphor for these processes. The book argues, secondly, that in contemporary France street theatre has emerged as working memory's privileged artistic form. If the transition from industrial to postindustrial space relies on theatrical logics, those logics will manifest differently depending on geographic context. The book links the proliferation of street theatre in France since the 1970s to the crisis in Fordist-Taylorist modernity. How have street theatre companies converted spaces of manufacturing into spaces of theatrical production? How do these companies (with municipal governments and developers) connect their work to the work that occurred in these spaces in the past? How do those connections manifest in theatrical events, and how do such events give shape and meaning to redevelopment? Street theatre’s function is both economic and historiographic. It makes the past intelligible as past and useful to the present.
This chapter interrogates contemporary French street theatre's dominant origin stories, which link the form to the festive protests of May 1968 and to a premodern carnivalesque. After the collapse of the Fordist compromise, street theatre is supposed to have reanimated public space through its transgression of boundaries and its invocation of a pre-industrial past. This chapter brings together street theatre historiography and analysis of key performances by Théâtre de l’Unité and Générik Vapeur to examine the complex and at times contradictory connections between street theatre’s anti-functionalist politics and its anti-theatrical prejudices. Ultimately the chapter argues that street theatre thrives in the remains of the modern industrial city because of its anxious relationship to a mythic urban ideal. This examination of street theatre's complex nostalgia challenges persistent assumptions about street theatre's temporal, spatial, and political work.
On 24 October 1928 the Actresses' Franchise League was at a victory reception held by the Equal Political Rights Campaign Committee to celebrate the passing of the Representation of the People Act which allowed women the vote on the same terms as men. One of the most popular suffrage plays of the pre-war period, Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St John's How The Vote Was Won (1909), was performed by some of the original cast. Throughout the war years and the 1920s, the League had maintained its work with and for the suffrage societies and used its extensive networks in the theatre industry to run philanthropic and patriotic projects that furthered the cause of women's equality in society. In all, the Actresses' Franchise League spent only six of its fifty years as an organisation producing what has been known as 'suffrage theatre' – this chapter explores the League's work from the outbreak of war until that 1928 victory performance, focusing particularly on the role of actresses in the Women's Emergency Corps and British Women's Hospital Fund.