Lecture by Prof. Tracy C. Davis (22nd March)

A Victorian Woman Ventures Securely into Men’s Realms:
Journalism, Politics, and Radical Advocacy
Tracy C. Davis

22 March, 6pm
John Casken Lecture Theatre,
Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama


Of the 241 Victorian theatre critics known to have written for the popular press, only one is known to be a woman; she, Pearl Craigie (1867-1906), daughter of an American millionaire and a well-connected socialite, concentrated her efforts on writing fiction and plays.  In stark contrast, new research makes a claim for a significantly earlier exponent of dramatic criticism.  Amelia Chesson (1833-1902) was the lower-middle-class daughter of an anti-slavery lecturer, George Thompson, well-connected in the sense of knowing the leading Radical activists of her day but never coming to prominence in her own right despite a lifetime of reviewing live art, starting with the Liberal daily The Morning Star and concluding with a long stint as book reviewer for the Athenaeum. Focusing on the onset of Chesson’s career, this research asks how a middle-class woman could undertake such work in the 1850s.  Evidence from Chesson’s diary (and that of her husband) demonstrates the kinds of spectatorial activities and social networks that first brought her this work, then sustained her ability to perform it on a semi-regular basis.  What is particularly interesting about this case is not just that she represents a “female first” but rather how she garnered the expertise to make the work possible, when her fertility made it impossible, how she managed it in conjunction with domestic responsibilities, the assignments considered appropriate for or by her, and the practicalities of evening work and early-hours deadlines that she met.

Tracy C. Davis is Barber Professor of Performing Arts at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA) and Visiting Professor at the John Rylands Research Institute, University of Manchester. Her work on 19th-century British theatre history, gender and theatre, theatre historiography, and performance theory has resulted in numerous books, including Actresses as Working Women: Their Social Identity in Victorian Culture (1991); George Bernard Shaw and the Socialist Theatre (1994); The Economics of the British Stage, 1800-1914 (2000); Theatricality (2003); Stages of Emergency: Cold War Nuclear Civil Defense (2007); The Broadview Anthology of Nineteenth-Century British Performance (2011); The Cultural History of Theatre (6 volumes, 2017), and Uncle Tom’s Cabins: the Transnational History of America’s Most Mutable Book (2018).

Her current research is based in the John Rylands Library’s Raymond English Anti-Slavery Collection. These letters, diaries, and scrapbooks demonstrate how two generations of British abolitionists aligned their efforts as rhetoricians to create international then transnational then networks of human rights advocates.


Acting Up In Zimbabwe
Silvanos Mudzvova
John Casken Lecture Theatre,
Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama
Thursday 9th March,

Silvanos Mudzvova is a Zimbabwean playwright, theatre director, filmmaker and activist. Through a range of different creative strategies, he has for several years been involved in the struggle for greater democracy and for LGBT rights in his home country. During 2017, Silvanos is based at the University of Manchester, as part of a year-long residency facilitated by the Artist Protection Fund, a programme of the New York-based Institute of International Education.

At this event, Silvanos will present an informal, illustrated talk about his work, and about the Zimbabwean contexts it has responded to. There will also be a Q&A discussion, enabling a dialogue to develop that could potentially inform Silvanos’s further activities while he is resident here in Manchester.

All welcome.

Too Much of Water / Salt’s Waters

Free performance event in the John Thaw Studio Theatre, Martin Harris Centre

Wednesday 7th December, 4.30pm to 6.00pm

Too Much of Water / Salt’s Waters   by Steve Bottoms, with Eddie Lawler

Too Much of Water as performed for Saltaire Women’s Institute (October 2016)

This special presentation is a double bill of short theatre pieces devised as part of Steve Bottoms’s current research project, “Towards Hydro-Citizenship”. They consider our current and historical relationships with water from different angles and using different aesthetics. Both pieces focus “site-specifically” on the Shipley and Saltaire area of West Yorkshire, but the stories resonate much more broadly.

Too Much of Water is Steve’s solo storytelling performance, written in response to the major flood event that hit Shipley on Boxing Day last year. Based on personal interviews with a range of those people affected by the flooding, it explores what can happen to people’s homes and wellbeing when there is just “too much of water”. The title comes from Shakespeare, and the props from a doll’s house, and the story is told with a streak of black comedy, while also taking seriously the impact of the floods. This half-hour performance was devised for this September’s Saltaire Festival, and has since appeared during the autumn in Exeter, Cambridge, London and Leeds.

Salt’s Waters combines Steve’s narratives with original, live music from singer-songwriter Eddie Lawler. It looks at the same area – Yorkshire’s Aire valley – from a more historical point of view, by considering the development and decline of industry, in relation to the rivers and canals that facilitated the expansion and extension of commercial activity in this previously “green and pleasant land”. Sir Titus Salt, who built the model Victorian mill village of Saltaire, was an enlightened Victorian entrepreneur, but his is not the only story explored in this 50-minute presentation, which asks spectators to look again at the waterways around us, and how they shaped the world we still live in…

There will be a short interval between the two pieces, and free refreshments. The atmosphere, we hope, will be relaxed and intimate. All welcome!


University of Manchester Drama Society 2016/17

by Marina Jenkins

dramsoc1617Drama Society is so happy and grateful to have been awarded a ‘Student Community Engagement’ Funding Award by the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures. This money will contribute hugely to the events we are putting on this year, enabling us to take our work to a wider public audience.

The Drama Society has many exciting events coming up this term! In September, the society committee picked the Autumn Showcases, and over the past month directors and their casts have been rehearsing very hard in time for the performances that will be happening throughout November and early December. The programme includes three pieces of original writing: Marina Jenkins’ Van, Dominic Varney’s Paper Skeletons and Chris Pope’s Tis’ Not Hereafter. We are all eagerly anticipating these shows and wish everyone the best of luck with preparations. Tickets will be on sale shortly and we hope that as many of you as possible will come along to see the plays.

There is also a great opportunity for first years to get involved this term with the Freshers’ Play. The play can be of any genre and style, the only rule is that it has to be written, directed, produced and performed by freshers. The play has not yet been chosen, but we are sure that whatever is brought to the table will be fantastic and look forward to seeing it in December.

The deadline for the MIFTAS (the Spring showcase of plays) is looming ahead. This is made up of eight individual plays, either previously published or original work, that will be put on throughout February and March 2017. Once these plays have been chosen and cast, everyone involved will be working exceedingly hard over this short time period to get the productions ready. Last year we saw some exceptional plays, so can only assume that we have a treat in store for us next term.

We also have a series of fundraisers coming up. These are taking place at various venues around Fallowfield with the aim of raising money for Drama Society. These will comprise of quizzes, musical performances and always an opportunity to meet other society members.

The Christmas social will be in the last week of term. This year, we have decided to do a 48-hour play that will be performed then. The idea is to get as many people involved as possible, rehearsing a loosely adapted film that the committee is putting together, over two days. At the social, the play will be performed as well as the awards for the Autumn Showcases being given out. (More information on the 48-hour play to follow.) Of course the annual drama ball will be happening next term, the date has been fixed for the 31st March 2017. We can look forward to a bit of glitz and glamour, including the ceremony for the MIFTAs.

Looking forward to seeing lots of you at these events and please stay updated via our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/uomdramasoc/?fref=ts

What can you expect from your first year of studying Drama at the University of Manchester?

What can you expect from your first year of studying Drama at the University of Manchester? We interviewed Molly Stedman, who’s about to start her second year, to find out.


What kind of things did you do in your first year?

So we’ve been doing quite a lot of theory-based things. Quite a lot of looking through the history of drama in a sense. In the first semester we looked at loads of stuff, from Greek theatre to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, right through to contemporary theatre practices in the second semester. And there are practical modules, so every Friday we had a long bit of practical, which we did a devised performance for. We did six weeks of learning different theatre practices, loads of different things like flashmobs, happenings, Mark Ravenhill, stuff like that. Then for four weeks different practitioners came in and taught us which was really good. I’m really interested in sociology so I love stuff like forum theatre, and we got to do that which was really nice.


That’s all very academic stuff, what about outside the course?

I’m part of the Drama Society who put on loads of plays. There was the Autumn Showcase, there were four plays, two of which were new writing. I was in one of those, which was so much fun. Being in one of those at the start of the year was the best thing, I got to know second years and loads of people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and now I’m really good friends with them. There was the MIFTAs festival as well, which were mostly written by students, and the third years’ directorial projects. And the New Writing Showcase at Contact, which was really fun, I was in one of those.


What have been the highlights of first year?

Probably doing the plays, I think, with the Drama Society, and getting to know more of the people in it. It’s nice to get to know people outside your year because it’s quite a small course. But also just meeting people at university and living in halls; I’ve really enjoyed being in halls.


Was there anything that was unexpected?

I was so homesick at the start of the year! I didn’t love freshers’ week, that was unexpected; everyone told me that freshers’ week will be the best week of your life and it just wasn’t my thing. I think because you don’t have anything to do that week, it was hard. You’ll get over it though! I had two really lovely peer mentors who helped me so much, making sure I was okay, so I did get over it, it was all fine in the end.

Also, the film module I did, The Art of Film. It was so much fun, it was one of the best things I’ve done. I didn’t realise I’d really enjoy film, and now I’m carrying on some of the film modules this year. That made me love film a lot more. I learnt a lot about identity on film, which I really liked.


What’s been the most important thing you’ve learnt?

Life skills! Being at university teaches you how to get along with people that you maybe wouldn’t usually get along with. Learning how to see beyond what people first seem. That sounds really sentimental! And the learning has fed into what I’m doing outside of the course. I volunteer with Student Action at Refugee Conversation Club and a lot of the stuff I’ve learnt, especially about applied theatre, has really made a difference there.


What advice would you give to someone about to start studying drama at Manchester?

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get into things in first year. Don’t stop trying! And don’t be scared by the theory you learn. I think a lot of people come to university and think you’re going to be acting the whole time but that’s not what it’s like. Learning the theory gives you skills, it helps you to watch drama in a very different way, and make it in a very different way. Also, use the library! No one uses the library. It’s great.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make friends! People have a lot of preconceptions about university, and sometimes it feels like if you haven’t made loads of best friends immediately you’ve done something wrong. But it will all be fine!

‘No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!’

In the summer, Drama staff get on with their various research projects. This feature by Vicky Lowe gives an insight into her ongoing work on film stardom and voice dubbing.

Look again at this clip from the 1964 Bond film, Goldfinger. The actor who plays the iconic baddie, Auric Goldfinger, is of course the German stage and screen actor Gert Fröbe. Yet the character is actually voiced by another actor, Michael Collins, apparently because Fröbe’s heavy Bavarian accent was too strong and he didn’t sound as the production team expected a continental style villain to sound! So Michael Collins, an English actor, constructed a vocal performance to match the visual image of Goldfinger and painstakingly dubbed all of Fröbe’s lines from the film in post-production.

This is part of a hidden history of vocal characterisations and performances that is only just coming to light. BBC4 recently aired a documentary The Secret Voices of Hollywood (2013) that exposed the ‘ghost’ singers of Hollywood, such as Marni Nixon and Bill Lee, who sung for the likes of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music (1965) but received no credit for their performances in the film or on the motion picture soundtracks that accompanied them. Of course we can see this in the context of an industrial practice dedicated to creating illusions and erasing any signs that a performance is ‘constructed’ through technological means.  Marsha Siefert (1995) argues that in fact that the practice became widespread in the 1950s because Hollywood was having to compete with the growth of television and so films, particularly musicals,  became more and more about the extraordinary; the impossibly beautiful image coupled with the out of this world voice.

But what about Britain? I’ve long been fascinated the sound of film stars, as much as their image, having written about how important Robert Donat’s voice was in the production of his star persona. However, this hidden history has got me intrigued. The difficulty of course is, in finding material that evidences these artists’ contributions because, of necessity, their work remained uncredited. So far, my research has taken me to uncover the work of performers such as Robert Rietty, who lent his voice to Adolfo Celi in Thunderball (1965) and often provided the voice for actors who were unavailable  to dub their own roles in post -production. An entertaining interview between Rietty and Barry Norman about this issue can be found here.

More recently, the young actor who played Heathcliff in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011), found to his dismay that his voice had been dubbed by another actor in the final film. It would be interesting to know why this was felt to be needed, particularly from a director whose work seems rooted in gritty authenticity.  I know from my research into Donat, that actors’ voices were subject to an enormous amount of scrutiny in the 1930s with production executives trying to find actors who would appeal to both British and American markets. So perhaps this actor’s natural Northern tones were deemed too local to appeal to transatlantic audiences.  I would be interested in hearing from anyone else working in this area, so if you have any information then please do email me at Victoria.s.lowe@manchester.ac.uk .

Perhaps the most interesting example of voice dubbing can be found, ironically, in one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood, Singing in the Rain (1952). In that film, the Debbie Reynolds’ character, Kathy Selden is bought in to dub the high pitched, screechy voiced, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) in her first sound film performance. In real life, Hagen was a trained Broadway actress who ended up lending her carefully modulated tones to Debbie Reynolds, whose real voice was thought to be too mid-western Hicksville for her character. So you have Hagen dubbing Reynolds dubbing Hagen!!

Sur-PRIZES at Graduation!

Last week it was a real pleasure to participate in the graduation ceremony for our outgoing third year Drama students. It was presided over by none other than poet and playwright Lemn Sissay, the University’s new Chancellor — apparently only the second such ceremony he had taken on. Lemn brought a really infectious sense of enthusiasm and positivity to the whole event. Graduations can often be a rather dryly formal affair — give or take the hooting and cheering of Drama graduands for their classmates as they cross the stage. But Lemn greeted everyone with a beaming smile, a warm handshake, and some variation on “Amazing! You did it!” Which managed not to sound even a tiny bit condescending, because he really seemed to mean it.


Speaking for myself, I was charged with reading out all the names of those processing to shake Lemn’s hand. This meant not just the students on our three Drama programmes, but also a whole bunch of PhD and MA students who came before them on the bill, some of them from completely different departments (most of whom I’d never heard of!). Bit of a challenge that, especially with pronouncing some of the names. Still, nobody has complained so far… There was a brief moment of panic where I realised I had inadvertently skipped over Charlotte Horton’s name on the list (sorry Charlotte!!). Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her quickly swap places with the person waiting behind her in line — so realising the error I called Charlotte’s name next and I’m not sure too many people noticed. (Imagine if she’d been left there waiting until the end of the ceremony. Yikes!) It’s quite tricky reading out that many names off a list without tripping up over them. Wonder if you can get a degree in that…

Anyway, the most memorable moment of the graduation was the moment when outgoing Head of School, Professor Steve Hutchings, read out the names of those students who had been awarded prizes. None of them realised they had won anything in advance, so there were some fantastic intakes of gobsmacked breath (accompanied by stifled shrieks of excitement). Some explanation is perhaps needed…

In previous years, Drama has traditionally awarded three prizes to members of the graduating year. These have gone to the three students with the highest overall grades on our three programmes — Drama, Drama and English, Drama and Screen. But we recently decided to rethink this a little. This was partly because the existing system is not necessarily very fair. What if, one year, the highest-ranked student on one of the programmes had actually achieved a less-stellar standard than a number of mostly non-prize-winning students on the other programmes? Also, we thought it was time we had prizes that recognised something of the diversity of student achievement in Drama. People are good at different things, and some people really excel at certain things, without necessarily being excellent at everything.

One final point was that we thought we should give our prizes names. Every year in our graduation ceremony, we listen to a big list of Music prizes, all of them named after various impressive-sounding people. So we thought it was time to step up our game…

The four prizes awarded this year, initiating a pattern we plan to pursue in future, are as follows:

  1. Gardner Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement in Drama. This oneTodd-Daphne-Viv-Gardener goes to the student whose overall graduating grades are the highest across all three of our programmes. We’ve named it after Professor Viv Gardner (pictured right), one of our retired Drama colleagues, who was herself a student in Drama at Manchester – back in the 1970s – and went on to contribute hugely to the department at every level of her career. She seemed the perfect choice after which to name this prize, which this year was awarded to Harriet Duddy. Harriet, of course, performed excellently across a wide range of modules, but I’d like to draw particular attention to her dissertation, which looked at the figure of the child in the plays of Caryl Churchill, and particularly the varying ways in which children seem to represent fear or apprehension about the future.
  2. Mayer Prize for Outstanding Drama Disssertation (or Research Essay). downloadThis one, self-evidently, goes to a student whose final year dissertation was especially remarkable – and this year that was Sophie Fox Davison. Sophie wrote about the portrayal of the body in the cinema of Pedro Almodovar, looking at how questions of Spanish nationality and cultural heritage, post-Franco, are played out on bodies in Almodovar’s films.
    The Mayer prize is named after Professor David Mayer (right), another emeritus member of the Drama staff who served here for many years, and whose reputation for scholarly rigour made him the natural choice for this award.
  3. Meera Syal Prize for Outstanding Practical Work in Drama. download (1)Since this is a practical prize, we wanted to name it after a graduate of the department who has excelled as a notable practitioner — and across the fields of stage and screen. Since Meera is a noted novelist as well as actor, she ties together all three of our programmes rather nicely (Drama/English/Screen). When she was approached about our naming this prize after her, she expressed both honour and surprise – and happily agreed. The inaugural Meera (as opposed to Oscar!) goes to James Walker in recognition of a range of outstanding practice, notably his practical dissertation (he made a 30-minute film that serves as a meta-critique of narrative structures in mainstream movies) and his practical coursework on ‘Falstaff & Gandalf Go to the Movies.’
  4. Jackson Prize for Outstanding Student Citizenship. This final prize is named after Professor Tony Jackson, 9780719089053yet another emeritus professor in Drama here at Manchester, who is remembered especially for his pioneering work connecting theatre, education and (latterly) heritage. His research and teaching connections with partners well beyond the University made him the natural choice for this ‘citizenship’ award. In future, it might be awarded to students who have pursued socially engaged work outside the University, or who have gone above and beyond in their roles as, say, student ambassadors with prospective students. This year, though, it has been awarded to Michael Honnah in recognition of his always-enthusiastic commitment to his role as chairperson of the Drama Society, which has also involved excellent work building relations across the building with Music Society. Michael always involves as many people as possible in his ambitious plans (just look at his multi-medial Directors project!) and has exemplified the positive attitude we look for in all our students.

Very well done indeed to all our prize winners, but beyond that, to all of our graduating students for their achievements during their time with us. We wish you all the very best in the coming months and years, as you plot your various global conquests. We hope you’ll come back and see us from time to time — and don’t forget that we’re always here if you need advice, support, or references.

Onwards and upwards!