Mercury Voices Online
As part of our wider Mercury Voices archiving project and our Mercury Online programme, we are pleased to present a series of six recordings, detailing the life and history of the Mercury Theatre and it's role with in the Colchester community.
Grab a cup of tea and join us every Thursday afternoon as we release a new section of our story.
Recorded with our friends at Colchester Recalled. With special thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The Mercury Voices Project was our multi-year archiving venture lead by local archivists, historians and volunteers. Between 2017 and 2018 we teamed up with Colchester Recalled to record over 60 hours of interviews with Mercury administrators, artistic directors, actors, backstage specialists, the community team and theatre-goers to tell the story of both the Repertory and Mercury Theatre.
To these recordings Colchester Recalled have added others from their 3,600-hour archive, some over 50 years old, taking the story back to Edwardian times, to the gas-lit Theatre Royal in Queen Street and the Hippodrome in High Street, where limelights shone, and Marie Lloyd, Harry Champion and Charlie Chaplin all performed. From this, a box set of 3 CDs will be available to purchase later this year.
Every week as part of our Mercury Online programme during lockdown, we’ll be releasing shortened audio clips from these CDs, enabling you to hear from a number of people who helped place the Mercury Theatre at heart of Colchester life.
So grab a cup of tea and join us every Thursday afternoon as we release a new section of our story.
Week 1: The Colchester 'Rep'
Welcome to the first in our series of Mercury Voices archive recordings, exploring Colchester and the Mercury’s history through soundbites and interviews.
Starting from the beginning. The Colchester Repertory Theatre opened in 1937 after a ‘dark’ period when Colchester had no professional theatre. It was founded and subsidised by Bob Digby, son of a wealthy local family. It flourished in the Second World War and up to the early 1950s when it annually put on a new play every week, some 40 plays a year. Structurally it was far from ideal, and by 1960 was in serious decline. It was pulled back to life by David Forder who, ‘head hunted’ by the Arts Council, transformed its fortunes and finally persuaded Colchester that the town needed a new theatre. This was opened in 1972 and the Repertory Theatre closed, in a ceremony recorded for posterity.
Hear from those who remember these times in our first Mercury Voices release.
Week 2: Pantomime
Our second Mercury Voices preview explores the long success story of Colchester’s Christmas Pantomime, and the role it plays in town life.
Hear Pantomime specialists recall the amount of hard work involved, the sheer cost of putting these shows on, and tell tales of jokes, audience participation and laughter, concluding with the climax of Cinderella in the Mercury at Abbey Field tent in 2019.
Remember, you can find many of our past pantomime programmes and images in through our online archive.
Week 3: Colchester and The Mercury
From the outset David Forder was a pioneer of the Mercury, working with local schools, bringing young people into the theatre to perform, welcoming the Scouts Gang Show and the Colchester Operatic Society. We even have a recording of the first Gang Show at the ‘Rep’ in 1938!
In 1995 Adrian Stokes was appointed Associate Director and revived and transformed the work in the community; a story recalled by those who took part from the Act 5 group for those over 50, to working with prisons, disadvantaged children, and with the Firstsite Gallery; work which continues today.