Birmingham Rep 100th Birthday: Kenneth Branagh Leads Glowing Tributes to Venue
The Birmingham Rep celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Famous names who have performed there pay tribute to the venue
Birmingham Mail, 9 February 2013
It was the theatre where a young Kenneth Branagh made his name. The actor shot to national fame in 1988 with his mesmerising performance of Hamlet at The Rep, part of a UK tour of three of the Bard’s plays. Branagh went on to fame and fortune, eventually winning five Academy Awards – including two for his ‘masterpiece’ film, 'Henry V'.
The Bafta winning actor, 52, has now joined a host of stars to pay tribute to The Rep, as it celebrates its centenary year.
Branagh said: “What an honour to have been a small part of the Birmingham Rep. When John Adams and the board had the courage to welcome the youngest of young theatre companies to the building in 1988, we had the best possible start to our careers."
“Birmingham audiences were sharp, robust and generous. The building was warm and creative. We worked long hours and spoke lots of Shakespeare. We also ate, drank and were merry."
"It was a golden, memorable time, and I thank The Rep and its audiences sincerely for having faith in youth and optimism – no wonder its stayed 100 years young! Happy birthday.”
A musical version of 'Pride and Prejudice' opened the theatre when it moved to its current Broad Street venue in the early 1970s, when Patricia Routledge played Elizabeth Bennet. “The Rep is a wonderful complex," said the actress, who played Hyacinth Bucket in TV’s 'Keeping Up Appearances'.
“The musical was called First Impressions, which I think was Jane Austen’s subtitle for Pride and Prejudice. I played Mrs Bennett and I had a whale of a time. She got most of the good songs, which of course made it great fun for me! I always said it should have been called ‘Mrs Darcy’s Mother-in-Law’."
“I had a wonderful song in the second half called 'A House In Town'. I had to make a big entrance down a sweeping staircase. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Peter Davis was the first musical director and it was his idea to open with a musical."
“I remember I lived in the theatre. There was accommodation there, about four or five apartments. I remember arriving on Sunday night before rehearsal and I was taken out to have a drink on the canal. I was very comfortable there and it was wonderful to be there as you were so close to your job. I would often dine in the restaurant at The Rep later on. It had become my home."
Princess Margaret attended one performance.
“It was very nice to see Princess Margaret," recalled Patricia. "She always enjoyed theatre and she enjoyed musical theatre.”
Birmingham’s own Toyah Willcox began her creative life at The Old Rep Theatre School, where she was a teenage drama student.
“My roots are firmly in Birmingham. As a teenager I always idealised the Birmingham Rep and its creative work," she recalled. "I wish the Rep a fantastic centenary year and I look forward to seeing its brilliant new productions under the guidance of the new artistic director Roxana Silbert."
"In 1988 (I think!) I was lucky enough to achieve my childhood dream of being on stage at The Rep when I played Hermia in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. It was a fantastic and joyous experience, I particularly loved the long sweep of the stage allowing great physical expression and contact with the audience."
"The building itself is to me iconic, Broad Street would never be the same without it. The Rep is truly one of the great British leading theatres.”
Sir Ian McKellen, Gandalf in the 'Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit' movies, said: “The Rep has been a jewel in Birmingham’s crown for 100 years. The city simply could not be as great as it is without such a prestigious asset. Congratulations!"
Former James Bond star Timothy Dalton also paid tribute to The Rep. The ex-007 star said: “I made my professional debut at the Old Rep in Station Street and have the fondest memories."