Dundee Repertory Theatre

Dundee Repertory Theatre
Dundee Repertory Theatre in 2006

Dundee Repertory Theatre or Dundee Rep is a theatre and arts company in the city of Dundee, Scotland. It operates as both a producing house - staging at least six of its own productions each year, and a receiving house - hosting work from visiting companies throughout Scotland and the United Kingdom including drama, musicals, contemporary & classical dance, children’s theatre, comedy, jazz and opera. It is home to the Dundee Rep Ensem ble, Scotland’s only full-time company of actors as well as Scotland’s principal contemporary dance company, Scottish Dance Theatre. ‘’’The Rep’’’ building is located in Tay Square at the centre of the city’s "cultural quarter" in the West End.

Recognised to be among the top regional theatres in the UK, it plays to an average audience of over 70,000 people a year attracting a very broad cross section of the local population in terms of age and occupation.



Dundee has had a number of purpose built theatres, the earliest of which was probably a small timber structure at the shore. In 1810 land was purchased in Castle Street to build the Theatre Royal, but this struggled to attract the local populace and was forced to turn to vaudeville performances to survive. It was eventually ruined by a fire.[1] In 1885 Her Majesty’s Theatre and Opera House opened on the Seagate, and was soon followed by other venues including the King's Theatre. From the 1910s theatres in Dundee began to close to be converted into cinemas due to the enormous popularity of film, and by 1930 Dundee no longer had any permanent theatre.[2] Robert Thornely – Manager of the last touring company to perform in Dundee was determined to find a home in the city for his professional theatre company. He approached the Dundee Dramatic Society, an amateur company, who, also faced with nowhere to perform had recently purchased their own premises in the form of a disused jute mill. In May 1939 Dundee Repertory Theatre was founded as a collaboration between professionals with amateur support. Around this time people thought it strange to be concentrating on drama during the turmoil of World War II. However the company performed weekly repertory during the war and the rest of the 1940s and throughout the 1950s. The company was housed in Foresters' Hall (6 Nicoll street to 3 Rattray Street) which was built for the Ancient Order of Foresters in 1901, when in June 1963 a fire completely destroyed the building and the Rep was forced to live a nomadic existence for a short period. Eventually a temporary refuge was found in the converted former Dudhope Church on the Lochee Road of Dundee although the company remained at the venue for a further 18 years.[3]

After negotiation with the City of Dundee District Council and the Scottish Arts Council it was agreed that the company would have its own purpose built premises on land donated by University of Dundee. Work began in January 1979 under the leadership of Robert Robertson who had been Artistic Director for a number of years and who was instrumental in overseeing the building and completion of the new theatre. However, the building work looked like being stopped in its tracks due to rising prices and inflation. A public appeal was launched which raised a massive £60,000 in under six weeks, reaching an eventual total of £200,000 outstripping all possible expectations, in a city that was then in the midst of economic recession. The new theatre opened on 8 April 1982, designed by Dundee based architects Nicoll Russell Studios. The building proved a great success - with a personal 455-seater auditorium, providing one of the best stages in Scotland in terms of its relationship with its audience, it received a civic commendation from The Civic Trust Award in 1984 and in 1986 won the RIBA Architecture Award.[3] Robert Robertson retired from Dundee Rep in 1990.

In April 1992 Hamish Glen was appointed Artistic Director, the same year saw the building extended and undertook a major refurbishment to facilitate a growing community and education department and to include a dance studio as well as extending its existing workshop, wardrobe and rehearsal capacity. In 1996 it received the prestigious TMA Martini Award for the Best Overall Production in the UK and in September 1999 it opened its doors to one of the most ambitious experiments in Scottish Theatre for many years – a permanent company of 14 actors.

The Rep Ensemble

The Rep Ensemble as of 2010 approaches the start of its twelfth year, having proven to be a long term success after performing numerous successful productions, including a yearly Christmas pantomime as well as challenging renditions of famous plays such as A Doll's House and The Elephant Man. The presence of the Ensemble at the Theatre allows for the organisation of work shops, readings, and other ways of reaching out to the community that would simply not be possible for a theatre without an official troupe of actors. It also allowed for the production of Sunshine on Leith, the successful musical that has been on tour three times now. The Rep Ensemble has won numerous awards and continues to further the ambition Hamish Glen had for the project, with performances in 2011 of The Rise & Fall of Little Voice and Anna Karenina.

The Rep Today

In Spring 2003 James Brining and Dominic Hill replaced Hamish Glen as joint Artistic Directors. Since then the theatre's work has been seen locally, elsewhere in Scotland and further afield. The company currently enjoys a strong reputation. In the 2004 Critics Awards For Theatre In Scotland (CATS), Dundee Rep 5 awards – Best Production (‘Scenes From An Execution’), Best Director (Dominic Hill for ‘Scenes…’), Best Actor (John Bett), Best Design & Best Music (both for ‘Twelfth Night’) as well as five other nominations. In 2004 a new £1 million dance studio was completed to house Scottish Dance Theatre. The Rep's in-house productions offer a repertoire of acclaimed works. The Rep also commissions playwrights to create new works and translate and adapt classical texts, making it relevant to Scotland’s contemporary cultural and social climate. The venue also includes the bar/restaurant, Het Theatercafé. The bar has also become a performance and exhibition space for music, poetry and artworks.

One of its most exciting recent ventures was the tour of its acclaimed production of The Winter's Tale to Iran under the auspices of the British Council's five year initiative 'Connecting Futures' a multi-million pound project to address the gulf of understanding between communities in the UK and in the Arab and Muslim worlds. This was the first major cultural event to be shown in Iran for 25 years, and the first ever British Council theatre tour to Iran. The request for the event came from Dr Sharifkholdaei, Head of the Dramatic Arts Centre in Tehran, and Director of Fajr International Theatre Festival. The set was built entirely in Iran, under the direction of John Miller, the company's production manager and played at the Vahdat Hall, Tehran to massively enthusiastic audiences.

Some notable associations

In 1962, Lynn Redgrave appeared in Ben Travers’ Rookery Nook, and as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, which also featured Steven Berkoff and Dundee-born Brian Cox who has gone on to play many roles in TV productions and Hollywood films. In the mid-1960s, a stable repertory company including Jill Gascoigne, Vivien Heilbron, Charmian May and Stephen Yardley saw short seasons from visiting actors James Bolam and Michael York. Other past associates include the actress Ann Way.

In the 1990s, the then future Doctor Who star David Tennant appeared in several productions starting with a role in The Princess and the Goblin.[4] Other alumni include Joanna Lumley, Geoffrey Hayes (beloved of British TV-viewers as the host of cult children's show Rainbow), and Hannah Gordon.

Richard Todd, of The Dam Busters fame, started his acting career in the Dundee Rep in 1939 and after his military service in WWII returned to Dundee Rep.

In 2008 Dundee Rep Youth Theatre joined forces with the Ensemble to perform Edward Bond's "[The Children][1]". “It’s difficult to find really good scripts for young people,” says Sarah Brigham, Dundee Rep’s associate director. “Usually it’s a pantomime, or a big musical. But what we believe at the Rep is that young people can be put in real contemporary theatre by the very best playwrights, and they can learn by performing that work."[5]


The archives of the Rep are deposited with Archive Services, University of Dundee[6]. They include programmes and photographs of stars such as Joanna Lumley, Michael York, David Tennant and Gregor Fisher performing at the theatre. Material from the Rep collection was displayed as a key part of a major exhibition on Dundee and theatre held at the Lamb Gallery, University of Dundee in late 2009 and early 2010.[4][2]


  1. ^ McKean, Charles and Whatley Patricia, with Baxter, Kenneth (2008). Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn. pp. 66–67. ISBN 9781841585628. 
  2. ^ a b "Treading the boards: Theatre in Dundee - new exhibition". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/pressreleases/2009/prdec09/theatre.htm. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  3. ^ a b McKean, Charles and Whatley Patricia, with Baxter, Kenneth (2008). Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn. pp. 225–226. ISBN 9781841585628. 
  4. ^ a b "Treading the boards: Theatre in Dundee". Archives, Records and Artefacts at the University of Dundee. http://www.archives-records-artefacts.com/2009/12/treading-boards-theatre-in-dundee.html. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  5. ^ The Courier Feature Story
  6. ^ "Women, Culture and Society Resources". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/wcs/resources/. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 

External links

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