London Theatre Archives

by Jennifer Pruess

Have you ever looked through Toby's past roles and thought "I wish I could have seen that performance"? Well, for a certain number of stage shows, it is possible! When I plan a trip, I do a LOT of research beforehand in order to fit as much in as possible and get the most "bang for my buck" as we say in the States.

In 2019 when it was announced that Toby would be returning to the stage in "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg", I bought my tickets and set to work planning a week's worth of experiences in London. I follow many different theatre and tourism sites and had amassed a wish list of things to check out, many of which were things I hadn't had time for on my 2 previous visits to the UK. Near the top of my wish list was viewing recordings of theatre performances in the archives at The National Theatre and The V&A. There are also archived RSC performances available in Stratford-upon-Avon, but I did not have time to travel there and back during this visit.

Live theatre can't be surpassed, of course, but the chance to watch productions from years ago that you didn't get to see in person is hard to pass up - especially for the low, low price of nothing! All it takes is a reservation and you have your very own private showing. You can watch it more than once and rewind and fast forward at will. Needless to say, the older the production, the less quality there is to the recording, but any view is better than none.

The productions I viewed were 'Oslo' and 'Danton's Death' at the National Theatre and 'Phedre' at the V&A. I won't present any specific reviews of the productions in this blog, but suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed all of them and was thrilled to have had the chance to watch them. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to bookend the archive performances with live performances and experience Toby on stage in both formats. In the space of a few days I watched Toby perform 6 times - 3 in-person shows and 3 recorded shows.

"Oslo" 2017, Photo © BrinkhoffMögenburg

The process: Using the links below, I was able to make reservations for specific dates and times. There are registration forms to fill out and simple instructions to follow and once you receive confirmation, you are all set. The National Theatre, upon request, lets you look at a physical copy of the programme for each production when you arrive to view the recording. There is also the option to purchase Research Packs (for 5 GBP each) which contain low resolution, watermarked digital scans of a production’s programme, press reviews, photographs and posters. Obviously you are not allowed to record or take pictures of the performance and, in the case of the V&A, you are only allowed to bring in note taking materials (they give you a locker for your other belongings). You also have to register and sign in and out at the V&A, but they are using physical discs as opposed to the digital files that the National Theatre uses, so they need to make sure no one walks off with a disc.


The National Theatre Archive is located near The Old Vic Theatre, (very near Waterloo and Southwark stations) at 83-101 The Cut, Bishop's, London SE1 8LL

The V&A Museum archives can be found near Kensington at Blythe House Archive OXQ, 23 Blythe Rd, London W14 0QX


The National Theatre

The V&A

RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon

Needless to say, visiting these locations is not possible right now due to pandemic restrictions. However, when things are able to open up again, I encourage you to dig into this wonderful resource and discover some stage shows you may have missed. When I am able to return to the UK, I certainly plan to return to London and Stratford-upon-Avon to view more archived productions.

1 comment

  • Philipa

    What a great post – I live in the UK and didn’t know these things were available. Thank you.

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