INTO THE VORTEX: 3
Posted on Wed 23 Jan 2013 by Stephen Unwin
During the rehearsal process of Noël Coward's The Vortex we will be publishing a guest blog from Raker Wilson. Raker Wilson is a Classical Theatre MA student at Kingston University and will be in the rehearsal room everyday recording the development of the play. Raker grew up in the beautiful Missoula, Montana, USA where he earned his BFA in Theatre at The University of Montana before hopping the pond.
The Sheridan Morley Theatre Collection and Me
I hope you’ve heard that there will be an exhibit at the Rose called From Radical to Royalty: Noël Coward's The Vortex and Beyond. Here’s the inside scoop: Sheridan Morley was a friend and biographer of Noël Coward, and in his lifetime gathered a sizable collection of documents pertaining to the master playwright. When Morley died, Kingston University was fortunate enough to receive his collection by generous donation of his wife Ruth Leon. Due to the close relationship between Kingston University and the Rose Theatre, it seemed only natural to include an exhibition of those wonderful items during the run of The Vortex.
Here then is my inside experience to date working on this really interesting exhibit.
I walked into the archives at Kingston University not knowing what to expect since I'd never been involved with anything so important sounding as “curating” as an exhibit. The room was small and white, with windows looking in from the busy university hallway. I'd passed the room many times before and wondered what it was used for. Now that I was actually in the room, I felt like a fish in a tank.
“Occasionally people will tap on the window to see if you're alive,” Katie Giles explained to me. She's the archivist who has catalogued every single item of the thousands in the Sheridan Morley Theatre Collection and probably knows more about his life than he did. I laughed uneasily at the idea of a life in captivity. “You'll need to put your bags in the locker, along with any food or drink, and only use pencils to write in here,” Katie explained. She's like a guardian, really, and the mysterious instructions only heightened my anticipation of what was to come. I had arrived with Stephen Unwin and associate director Jay Paul Skelton, and we all sat at a long white table. Katie then brought out box after box of documents, piled them high on a cart, and supplied each of us with our first box. Presto! Instant theater nerd Christmas.
We opened the boxes right away and pored over item after item, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the rarities in front of us, including a particularly impressive first edition of The Vortex. There were old play programmes and show posters, letters, contracts, magazines, newspaper clippings, and old postcard albums. It felt as though we had opened a time capsule from another life. Katie said she had hundreds more items where those came from, indicating to a mountain of boxes and books, but she had apparently only assembled the highlights. It still felt like we had our work cut out for us.
One particularly nice moment occurred one afternoon as Jay was wrapping up a day's work at the archives. I picked up what he had just added to the list of items: a French translation of a few Coward plays and another collection of three of his plays in English. I was leafing through them when I noticed a scribble of writing in the first pages of both. Hey, they were signed by Noël Coward! One signature was dated 1925, which was during the original London run of The Vortex. “Nice signed copies,” I said trying to sound cool. “What?! Let me see that!” Jay exclaimed. I'd just unknowingly added two signed plays to our quickly growing exhibit. I felt like an honorary archivist that day.
If you'd like to see the treasures that we discovered or any of the other wonderful items that will be on display in the Rose Culture Cafe, please come see it starting 31 January and throughout the run of The Vortex.