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The Dundee Repertory Theatre, Tay Square, Dundee

Formerly - At The Forester's Hall, Nicoll Street

Dundee Theatres

A Google StreetView Image of the Dundee Repertory Theatre - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Dundee Repertory Theatre - Click to Interact

A promotional photo of the Dundee Repertory Theatre building today.Dundee Repertory Theatre, starting in December 1939, is the creation of Robert Thornley from Lancashire, an actor, producer, director and minor impresario. He learned his trade with the Manchester Repertory Company and was able to form groups of actors for repertory touring. Before he settled in Dundee in 1939 he spent several years as a teacher in a school of acting in Hollywood, California. In 1938 his ensemble was touring Britain. In the summer of 1939 the Robert Thornley ensemble staged plays in St Andrews, at the Byre Theatre, and at the Alhambra Theatre, Dundee.

Right - A promotional photo of the Dundee Repertory Theatre building today.

For most of the 1930s Dundee had no designated professional drama theatre. Some citizens including the amateur Dundee Dramatic Society (who found a brief home in the Little Theatre, a converted church) were keen to have such a theatre but little happened. Thornley asked young Richard Todd from Northern Ireland to join his group of actors. Todd recalls his first Thornley production of 1939, in the former H. M. Theatre, then running as cine-variety, as being poorly attended in the huge worn out theatre. At this point Robert Thornley enlisted the aid of businessmen, including the chairman of Draffen`s departmental store, and a lease was swiftly secured from the Ancient Order of Foresters of the Forester`s Hall in Nicoll Street. Despite the start of war the building contracts were continued and the Hall adapted to become a theatre, the Dundee Repertory Theatre.

The Dundee Repertory Theatre entrance at Forester`s Hall from 1939 to 1963 - Courtesy GG of Retro Dundee.Its opening production on 20th December 1939 was a gala performance of the poetical play Hassan, making its Scottish premiere. Productions continued throughout the war, including in 1940 some in the Alhambra, and charity productions in the King`s Theatre.

Left - The Dundee Repertory Theatre entrance at Forester`s Hall from 1939 to 1963 - Courtesy GG of Retro Dundee.

A Programme for 'The Queen's Husband' at the Dundee Repertory Theatre at Forester`s Hall 1952 - Courtesy Colin Calder. Thornley`s group also travelled to towns nearby as the Scottish Highway Players. Dundee Repertory actors included Richard Todd, Catherine Bogle (Todd`s future wife), Ronald Grierson, and Patrick Cargill.

Todd returned to the company after war service, staying for two years before soon becoming the award-winning film star of international standing.

Right - A Programme for 'The Queen's Husband' at the Dundee Repertory Theatre at Forester`s Hall 1952 - Courtesy Colin Calder.

Members joining in later decades include Vivien Heilbron, Hannah Gordon, Phyllis Logan, Joanna Lumley, and Brian Cox.

The interior of Forester`s Hall was destroyed by fire in 1963 not long after a refurbishment which included a foyer mural painted by Richard Demarco, depicting “The Spirit of Culture Descending Upon Dundee”. It was thought this too was destroyed but the mural was rescued and put into a store in 2004 and can be seen in the photograph below.

The Dundee Repertory Theatre foyer mural by Richard Demarco pictured in 1963 - Courtesy GG of RetroDundee

Above - The Dundee Repertory Theatre foyer mural by Richard Demarco pictured in 1963 - Courtesy GG of Retro Dundee

A Dundee Repertory Theatre flyer for 'Betty & Boaby's Macbeth' in 1988 - Courtesy GG of Retro Dundee.The Repertory found a (long-term) temporary home in St Columba`s Parish Church in Lochee Road. A photograph of the building used by the Repertory in this period can be seen here.

Initial thoughts of converting the Caird Hall into two or three units proved too costly and instead proposals were made for Tay Square. During the 1970s the public and the City Council raised money, supplemented by an Arts Council fund for new buildings and in 1982 the present, modern Dundee Repertory Theatre building, seating 450, and including an arts centre, designed by the newly formed architects – the Nicoll Russell Studios - opened in Tay Square on ground donated by Dundee University. A dance studio and larger rehearsal capacity was added later.

Right - A Dundee Repertory Theatre flyer for 'Betty & Boaby's Macbeth' in 1988 - Courtesy GG of Retro Dundee.

The Theatre is the home of the Dundee Rep Ensemble of actors and the base for the contemporary dance company – Scottish Dance Theatre.

The above information on the Dundee Repertory Theatre was written for this site by Graeme Smith in February 2013.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

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