Royal biographer

VETERAN actor, archivist and a teller of tales Murray Melvin laughs heartily and agrees that he is finally able to sleep deeply after spending three years compiling the history of his beloved Royal , writes KAY ATWAL. The Royal to which he refers is th

VETERAN actor, archivist and a teller of tales Murray Melvin laughs heartily and agrees that he is finally able to sleep deeply after spending three years compiling the history of his beloved "Royal", writes KAY ATWAL.

The "Royal" to which he refers is the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Now, to coincide with the theatre's125th birthday, Murray has launched The Theatre Royal: A History of the Building (�5, Stratford East Publications).

While he was working on the 60-plus page book, Murray, archivist at the theatre, also began compiling a list of every play that has ever been performed there since 1884.


You may also want to watch:


He said the idea came from the fact that visitors were always asking questions about the theatre building or its decor.

He said: "It has been a monumental task, but I do it all out of love for the building. It has always been a labour of love. I owe this building so much. It is the gem of Newham.

Most Read

"I have become known as this mad person, walking about muttering dates for years.

"I thought it was very important (to write the history) with all the changes recently and that there was a record of the changes. Since 2000, when the theatre got the Lottery grant, we have had two additional wings to the building.

"The old Grade II listed building wasn't touched, of course."

The summary of events that have shaped its history includes regeneration plans for the centre of Stratford that threatened the theatre's survival as they included the demolition of the area of Angel Lane and Salway Road in 1967.

The book states: "Even as the bulldozes made their way along Angel Lane from Stratford Broadway, Gerry Raffles [the theatre manager]...managed to obtain a provisional Grade II preservation order on the theatre."

Following Gerry's death in 1975, the square at the side of the theatre was named in his honour and memory.

The book is liberally littered with original drawings and programmes, including one for the play performed on its grand opening on December 17 1884 - Richelieu or The Conspiracy.

It also features photos of items of decor that have caught the eye of many a theatre-goer over the years.

Among them are black and white shots of one of the most famous names associated with the "Royal" - Joan Littlewood.

She set up the world-famous Theatre Workshop Company and was Gerry's partner. She gave up the theatre, never to return, when he died. No surprise, then, that Murray talks about her.

"Joan took me off the streets and gave me my university, changed my life and I became an actor and learned so much. The Royal has been my university and my home - both personally and professionally."

He said the theatre's plays over its 125 years have reflected events that have shaped the nation and the area immediately surrounding the theatre, from productions like Oh, What a Lovely War, to more modern performances that reflect the diversity of cultures in Newham and the country at large.

The Theatre Royal: A History of the Building is available at the Theatre Royal and online from www.stratfordeast.com.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter