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Unity Theatre, London

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Title: Unity Theatre, London  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Warren Mitchell, Lionel Bart, Michael Gambon, Bob Hoskins, Frank Auerbach, Louise Gold, Seán O'Casey, Central School of Speech and Drama, Julian Glover, Randall Swingler
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Unity Theatre, London

Unity Theatre
Address Goldington St
City London
Country UK
Years active 1936–1975
Closed 1975
Current use Redeveloped for housing

The Unity Theatre was a theatre club formed in 1936, and initially based in St Judes Hall, Britannia Street, Kings Cross, in 1937 they moved to a former chapel in Goldington Street, near St Pancras, in the London Borough of Camden. Although the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1975 productions continued sporadically until 1994 when the site was sold for social housing.[1] Unity Mews is today on the site and a bronze plaque commemorates the theatre. It had links to the Left Book Club Theatre Guild and the Communist Party of Great Britain.[2] By the end of the theatre's first decade, it had spawned 250 branches throughout Britain.


The theatre grew from the Workers' Theatre Movement, formed in the East End of London.[3] This was an attempt to bring contemporary social and political issues to a working class audience; it introduced plays by, about and for workers. The company used agitprop theatre techniques to highlight the suffering of unemployment and hunger marches in the Great Depression and to challenge the rise of Nazism in Germany and Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. They sought to show the republican struggle in Spain.[4]

The company was notable for pioneering new dramatic forms, such as company-devised documentary pieces, 'Living Newspapers' and satirical pantomimes, including Babes in the Wood (whose cast included Bill Owen, Mark Cheney, Vida Hope, Alfie Bass and, Una Brandon-Jones), Plant In The Sun (starring Paul Robeson, along with Alfie Bass).[5] The improvisational technique brought them into conflict with the Lord Chamberlain's Office, who retained the right to approve theatre scripts under the Theatres Act 1843. Nevertheless, the company managed to present important works throughout the 1930s and audiences suspicious of politics as usual, and tired of the light and fluffy entertainments designed for the upper classes, responded.[1] There was a ban on theatre at its outbreak, but once lifted the theatre remained active throughout World War II. The company also provided groups of entertainers to tour factories and air-raid shelters.[5]

There was also an associated Unity Theatre School. Unity was a volunteer theatre, neither fully amateur, nor professional,(apart from a short-lived professional company founded in 1946 by Everyman Theatre Cardiff. Despite leaving the movement the company continues to adhere to much of the Unity ethos and remains neither fully amateur nor professional.

Notable writers and actors

Unity introduced new writers, both British and international, presenting Señora Carrara's Rifles (1938), the first Brecht play in Britain and premières of Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty, Sean O'Casey's The Star Turns Red (1940), Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nekrassov (1956).[4] The theatre helped popularise the plays of Maxim Gorky. Notable actors associated with Unity Theatre have included: Lionel Bart, Alfie Bass, Una Brandon-Jones, Michael Gambon, Julian Glover, Jack Grossman, Harry Landis Michael Redgrave, Herbert Lom, Vida Hope, Bob Hoskins, David Kossoff, Warren Mitchell, Bill Owen, Eric Paice, Ted Willis, Roger Woddis.[5] Bart's earliest contributions were lyrics for the revue 'Turn It Up'. Bart also wrote the lyrics for an agitprop version of Cinderella and also wrote a revue called Peacemeal and a play called Wally Pone for the group.[6]


Further reading

  • Colin Chambers The story of Unity Theatre

External links

  • Everyman Theatre Cardiff
  • Everyman Open Air Theatre Festival
  • article from 28 January 1990
  • Information about the history of Unity Theatre
  • Review of a film about the theatre
  • Unity Theatre Records, 1931-1960 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Special Collections Research Center
  • The records of the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Department.

Coordinates: 51°32′6″N 0°7′59″W / 51.53500°N 0.13306°W / 51.53500; -0.13306

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