Prospect Theatre Company
from small beginnings ....
In 1961 at the Oxford Playhouse where Frank Hauser was based with his
Meadow Players, Iain Mackintosh, Richard Cottrell and
Elizabeth Sweeting formed a company to present a summer season of plays. The
Company was called Prospect Productions. The success of Prospect's first
season led to a further season in 1962. In 1963, when the Playhouse closed for
renovations, Prospect hired the touring module belonging to the Century
Theatre and put it down amongst the cow-parsley on Binsey Green. The last play
of the season was Vanbrugh's THE PROVOKED WIFE, directed by Toby Robertson,
with Eileen Atkins and Trevor Martin in Garrick's role of Sir John Brute. The
production opened the newly restored Georgian Theatre in Richmond, Yorkshire.
It then transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre, London. The success of the
Oxford seasons suggested that Prospect should operate for longer than a mere
summer season each year. So ...
In 1964, with the blessing of the Arts Council (Drama Director, Joe
Hodgkinson Esq.) and Dr. George Rylands of Cambridge, Prospect found a new
role as a touring Company based on the Arts Theatre, Cambridge, with Toby
Robertson as Artistic Director, Richard Cottrell as Associate Director, and
Iain Mackintosh as Administrator. G. Laurence Harbottle Esq. was the Company's
first Chairman. Between 1964 and 1966 Prospect presented seven well-known
plays, 5 rarely performed Classics (including Otway's SOLDIER'S FORTUNE,
Vanbrugh's THE CONFEDERACY, with Robert Eddison and Hy Hazell, to celebrate
the third centenary of Vanbrugh's birth, and Etherege's THE MAN OF MODE) and 3
new plays. In 1966 Timothy West first joined the Company to play Prospero and
later that year Prospect had its first invitation to the 1967 Edinburgh
Prospect's first Edinburgh Festival production was Chekov's CHERRY ORCHARD
when Lila Kedrova, in an inspired piece of casting, played Madam Ranyevskaya
in Richard Cottrell's production. When this production transferred to London
Madam Kedrova won the Evening Standard Best Actress of the Year Award. 1968
saw the production of Prospect's first "musical" - Gay's BEGGAR'S OPERA, which
was also the first Prospect show to be televised, and in 1969 the Company
appeared for the first time at the Assembly Hall. Ian McKellen and Timothy
West sparred as protagonist and antagonist in Shakespeare's
RICHARD II, and Marlowe's
EDWARD II - the first professional revival for 300 years. Robert Eddison
won the Clarence Derwent Award for his performance of "Lightborn". Between
1967 and 1977 Prospect was invited to play at eight Edinburgh International
Festivals. During that period the Company mounted a total of sixteen
productions, of which thirteen were later presented in London.
Many leading actors were glad of the chance to play challenging or unusual
roles, including: EILEEN ATKINS, JOHN BAILEY, SHEILA BALLANTINE, ANN BELL,
STEPHANIE BIDMEAD, ISLA BLAIR, CAROLINE BLAKISTON, GARY BOND, RICHARD BRIERS,
ELEANOR BRON, JOHN CASTLE, ANDREW CRUIKSHANK, FRANCES CUKA, TIMOTHY DALTON,
EDWARD de SOUZA, ROBERT EDDISON, LYNN FARLEIGH, RUPERT FRAZER, JULIAN GLOVER,
MICHAEL GOODLIFFE, WILLOUGHBY GODDARD, MARIUS GORING, PAUL HARDWICK, ROBERT
HARDY, GERALD HARPER, HY HAZEL, RUSSEL HUNTER, HAROLD INNOCENT, DEREK JACOBI,
PAULINE JAMESON, BARBARA JEFFORD, PETER JEFFREY, PAUL JONES, CHARLES KAY, LILA
KEDROVA, DINSDALE LANDEN, JANE LAPOTAIRE, JAMES LAURENSON, BARBARA LEIGH HUNT,
TREVOR MARTIN, IAN McKELLEN, BARBARA MURRAY, JOHN NEVILLE, PAUL NICHOLAS,
RICHARD PASCO, RICHARD PEARSON, BRYAN PRINGLE, ANGELA RICHARDS, FANNY ROWE,
PRUNELLA SCALES, JOHN SHRAPNELL, MARIAN SPENCER, NEIL STACY, PETER STRAKER,
RONNIE STEVENS, JANET SUZMAN, CLIVE SWIFT, SYLVIA SYMS, VALERIE TAYLOR,
MARILYN TAYLORSON, JOHN TURNER, DOROTHY TUTIN, MARGARET TYSACK, FIONA WALKER,
ZENA WALKER, JAN WATERS, TIMOTHY WEST, PATRICK WYMARK.
All Prospect productions toured throughout the UK and, largely as a result
of the Edinburgh Festival association, Prospect was asked to tour abroad for
the British Council. Since 1967 twelve major productions have visited the
Middle East, Russia, Hong Kong, and Australia.
In 1969 the Company was asked to extend its touring to the large "No 1"
theatres in the regions, at the same time the Cambridge Arts Theatre wanted
Prospect to help in the formation of a new theatre company. As these two
developments pointed in totally different directions with implications of a
conflicting scale of work, Richard Cottrell left Prospect to become Director
of the newly formed Cambridge Theatre Company: Toby Robertson became Director
of the Company, and Prospect's role as the leading touring company in the
country was recognised, with its new name - The Prospect Theatre Company.
Music came to play an increasingly large part in the productions, and Carl
Davis's scores for a modern dress production of LOVE'S LABOURS LOST, 1971,
PERICLES, 1973, PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, 1974/5 led directly to Christopher Logue's
and Donald Fraser's Homeric musical WAR MUSIC, 1977.
In 1971 the first Prospect Workshop productions began to develop inside the
major company and later tours were mounted to small and medium scale theatres.
A series of chamber works were commissioned, including Jane McCulloch's THE
GRAND TOUR for the Entry into Europe celebrations —- an entertainment seen in
London, Edinburgh, and the 1974 Brighton Festival.
From 1970 to 1976 four major productions were created each year. As the
only major company touring nationally, the choice of repertoire tended to be
drawn more from the classics at the expense of new work: - Shakespeare's MUCH
ADO ABOUT NOTHING, HAMLET, KING LEAR, RICHARD III, TWELFTH NIGHT, HENRY IV,
parts 1 and 2, HENRY V, Otway's VENICE PRESERVED, Whycherley's THE COUNTRY
WIFE, Macklin's THE MAN OF THE WORLD, Turgenev's MONTH IN THE COUNTRY (with
Derek Jacobi, Timothy West and Dorothy Tutin, who won 2 major acting awards
for her performance), Chekov's IVANOV, (both in new versions by Ariadne
Nicholaeff), Shaffer's ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN ....
Artistically, Prospect worked outwardly from the text of a play, laying the
classics open to a general inspection rather than confining a play in a rigid
concept. The focus was on the actor, helped by costume, lighting and music.
Settings were kept to a minimum partly from the belief that Shakespeare in
particular gained from an uncluttered approach, and partly from the demands of
touring, where a flexibility of staging was essential. But the Company was
working without a base and the problems of touring satisfactorily to meet the
high standards expected by theatre audiences throughout the country were
increasing. Prospect desperately need a metropolitan base to sustain its
regional work. Occasional London seasons either at the Round House or in the
West End did not answer the long-term need . . .
In 1976 the Governors of The Old Vic invited Prospect to give a Jubilee
season of drama in 1977. David Russell Esq. became Chairman in July 1976.
In July 1977 the Governors of The Old Vic announced "a marriage that was
all but a merger" between the Vic and Prospect.
In September Toby Robertson, Director of Prospect, was asked to take
artistic control of The Old Vic, and Christopher Richards, General Manager of
The Old Vic, became General Manager of Prospect.
In 1977 Prospect played 17 theatres in the UK, 17 theatres abroad and was
seen by approximately 200,000 people.
Prospect had found a home base — a future could be planned.
Back to Index of Plays