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Digby Gallery

The Digby Gallery at the Mercury Theatre Colchester exhibits work by artists living and/or working in the region.

Open to the public 10am-6pm Monday to Saturday, and later on evenings when there is a performance.

A woman looks at a description of what to do during an air raid

Current exhibition

The Digby Gallery current houses an exhibition curated by the Mercury Voices team.

The project has been made possible by a £80,000 National Lottery grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The Mercury Voices project aims to ensure that the organisation’s history is captured, can be shared for future generations, and creates a sense of inspiration, ownership and community cohesion. The project is in partnership with Essex Records Office and Colchester Recalled, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Essex Heritage Trust.

You can also listen to an oral history below as a visitor remembers a visit to the pantomime as a child, and another remembers a school prize of a theatre trip. We’re recording more oral histories all the time and will add them to this page as we go. Got a story to share? Get in touch!

  1. AUTUMN 2018 EXHIBITION - Jenny Lithgow talks about meeting Robert Digby at the Albert Hall 1:13
  2. AUTUMN 2018 EXHIBITION - Barbara Phipps talks about opening night and the donor scroll 1:43
  3. AUTUMN 2018 EXHIBITION - The Prologue spoken by Eric Porter on opening night 1:28
  4. David Forder talks about the closing of the Rep 1:28
  5. An interview with David Forder about the founding of the theatre 1:21
  6. An interview with Christopher Snow, carpenter - Part 1 1:27
  7. An interview with Christopher Snow, carpenter - Part 2 1:09
  8. Paul Warner talks about attaching the Mercury statue 0:34
  9. Repertory Theatre Oral History 0:47
  10. Panto Oral History 1 0:30
  11. Panto Oral History 2 0:27

Transcript 1: “Hello! One of my main memories is when I was little I went to go see Cinderella here and my dad got picked on by the Ugly Sisters as one that he would be their kind of love interest and I yelled out really loudly in front of the whole entire audience “you can’t have him he’s married” and then had a strop throughout the whole entire thing because they were trying to flirt with my dad even though they were just two men in drag and I didn’t really understand that at the time!”

Transcript 2: “My first introduction to theatre and repertory company was at the old theatre which is in High Street and is now the Co-Op Bank? At school I used to go to the Gilberd School on North Hill. We sometimes went to pantomimes but also had prize givings where I was received – I received a prize for being pro- most progress during one year. So that was my first introduction to the theatre.”

Previous exhibitions

The History of the Colchester Repertory Company

26 January – 15 April 2018

Between 26 January and 15 April, the Digby Gallery will showcase objects from the Mercury Theatre’s archive collection and extracts detailing this period in the theatre’s history, promoting awareness of and engagement with the Mercury Voices project. From the Company’s early beginnings in 1937 through to its home at the Albert Hall in Colchester High Street, the Repertory Theatre Exhibition offers detailed insights into the Mercury’s historical timeline.

The exhibition will reveal the untold stories of the Repertory Company, including beautiful photographs of Robert Digby and Beatrice Radley, who were the key initiators of the theatre in 1938, as well as materials from touring productions. A special feature will be the Rep during the War Years with programmes from the 1940s – including what to do if there is an air raid – as well as programmes and press coverage telling the story of the Rep’s productions at the German Prisoner of War Camp in Berechurch, Colchester.

Throughout the exhibition there will be the opportunity for visitors to listen to a selection of unique oral history recordings by staff and audiences recollecting this period in the theatre’s history, provided by our project partners Colchester Recalled.

The history of the theatre will continue to be told through the next exhibition, The Mercury Rising, featuring the development of a new theatre for Colchester during the 1960s, through to the Mercury’s design and opening in 1972.

Panto at the Mercury Theatre

17 November 2017 – 14 January 2018

Our Mercury Voices team present an exhibition of pantos past. Come and learn about the history of panto at the Mercury and take a look at archive props and costumes!

This exhibition presents images, costumes and stories from familiar pantomimes performed at the Colchester Repertory Company and Mercury Theatre. It also shows some of the lesser known pantomimes and Christmas shows.

Banishanta: World of Sinners by Shahadat Hossain

25 August – 25 September 2017

An exhibition by award-winning documentary photographer Shahadat Hossain of photographs taken at Banishanta Island, close to the port of Mongla in the Bay of Bengal.

This island houses over 150 people, almost all of them women. Banishanta is a state-licensed brothel, a place of activities widely regarded with contempt as sinful, unmentionable.

But these images reveal a different world – of rich humanity, innocence and laughter, pain and sadness, exploitation, resilience and resignation – all under constant threat that climate change, rising sea-level and more frequent cyclones will wash away the only life they know.

Shahadat Hossain has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Cinematography from the Asian Academy of Film and Television, India. He started his professional career as a freelance photographer, has received more than ten major photography awards and participated in twelve international exhibitions, in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and elsewhere. He now has over eight years’ experience working on international and domestic media projects as a director, assistant director, cinematographer, photographer and ‘fixer’. He has worked for Bishari Films (Canada), Lotus Films (Austria), Mortal Coil Media (UK) and Big Blue Communications. He was a cinematographer on the Sundarbans documentary by the Tiger Team (UK) and on the Rana Plaza documentary for Norway Television.

Mercury Voices

Tuesday 4 April – Tuesday 16 May 2017

The Mercury Theatre is delighted to announce the launch of its first exhibition of Mercury Voices, an archival and oral history project made possible by National Lottery players.

An opportunity for the public to see objects in the Mercury Theatre’s collection for the first time, this inaugural exhibition will showcase the rich variety of artefacts, costumes and memorabilia in the Theatre’s collection.

Throughout the exhibition there will be opportunities for people to get involved by sharing their memories of the Mercury Theatre, donating objects or volunteering.

Drop-in sessions for the public to share their stories and memories
Friday 21 April, 10am – 3pm
Thursday 4 May, 10am – 3pm

Individuals interested in taking part in the project should contact the Project Managers, Claire Driver and Laura Davison, on:

The project is in partnership with Essex Records Office and Colchester Recalled, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Essex Heritage Trust.

Click to read more about Mercury Voices.

Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Suprematism by Tony Bramley

20 February to 3 April 2017

In 2015, Tony Bramley produced a series of images inspired by the Modernist Russian avant-garde movement of Dynamic Suprematism. What made these compositions unique was their production from photography for his Fellowship with the Royal Photographic Society.

Suprematism is a highly geometric style of early 20th-century non-objective abstract painting, ignoring the familiar appearance of objects, developed by Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935).

In each composition, existing geometry is abstracted from a single ‘donor’ photograph, providing the material for a completely new and unique creation. Only the ‘essence’ of the original image remains. Colour, shape, texture, tone and form take on a new prominence and visual beauty. The exclusive use of “white space”, representing infinity, induces a state of equivalence. New dynamics come to the fore, the energy and motion enhanced by the background space.

The photography is now close to Zero Point, a transitional state where origination and representation is questioned. Objective has become non-objective. Content is at its purest and most creative; light, colour, shape and the viewer.

This body of work was also awarded the Bill Wiseden MBE RPS Fellowship of the Year in 2016.


Revive by Antonia Layzell

10 January to 20 February 2017

In 2008, Antonia Layzell undertook a pilgrimage across South-Eastern Australia, where she experienced the Black Saturday bushfires and severe flooding that marooned her on a mountainside for two weeks; she also participated in a five and a half hour long sweat lodge during an indigenous ceremony at a Yorta Yorta gathering. Her encounters with the dreamtime and its connection to all aspects of life, as well as time spent engaging with Aboriginal culture, have had a lasting effect on Antonia’s creative process as an action of renewal and enterprise in an ever changing and developing world.

Since her pilgrimage, Antonia has created many artworks along the theme of life, death and rebirth; crossing aspects of past and future. For ‘Revive’ Antonia has brought together a body of work centred on Qi, a fundamental concept found in traditional Chinese religion, philosophy and culture. Qi literally means air or breath, and as a concept it refers to the energy flow and life force that is said to pervade all things. From the age of twenty, Antonia began developing the art of divination as a way of interacting with Qi force and in the last four years, began introducing it into her artistic practice. Each of the paintings on show in this exhibition have been created through this divination process.

Then and Now by Xav Marseilles

2 November 2016 to 10 January 2017

This is the second exhibition of works by local artist Xav Marseilles in the Digby Gallery following on from his self-titled exhibition Xavier Marseilles in May 2016, marking the start of the six-month project between him and the Mercury Theatre.

Then & Now includes fourteen pieces, which merge the past and present, by mixing the old and new Colchester together. Each piece, in this exhibition, has been digitally produced using a fusion of an old photograph of a well known location in Colchester, taken decades ago, and a second photograph taken by the artist, at the same spot and from the exact same angle.

Nostalgic yet contemporary; old and new; constant but ephemeral – this exhibition celebrates the journey our town is on recognising its recent past and acknowledging its colourful future

Originally from France, Xav Marseilles moved to Colchester, at the age of eighteen after leaving art school and his life in Paris. His work often draws on these two cultures, producing images that are sometimes gritty, thought-provoking yet often humorous. His inspirations includes Robert Williams, David Hockney, Jackson Pollock and, local artist Matt Mackman. Not to forget Xav’s absolute favourite; Andy Warhol. Using his love for photography and self-taught editing techniques Xav has produced, in the last few years, some really striking digital artwork.

Website: / Twitter: @xavmars 

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