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London Theatre Studio

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Upper Street, Islington, in 2007
Upper Street, Islington, in 2007

The London Theatre Studio was a drama and design school in Upper Street, Islington, London, directed by the French actor and director Michel Saint-Denis throughout its short life, which was from 1936 to 1939.

The school was the first in England to teach theatrical design as well as drama. It was closed at the beginning of the Second World War. After the war its director and other instructors returned to teaching drama and design in other places.


In 1929, with the support of Jacques Copeau, his uncle, Michel Saint-Denis and other members of Copeau's company moved to Paris and established the Compagnie des Quinze, a company of actors, in which Saint-Denis put into effect the innovative teaching methods of Copeau. This folded in 1934, and in 1935 Saint-Denis moved to London, where the next year he founded the London Theatre Studio with George Devine, Marius Goring, and Glen Byam Shaw.[1][2] Margaret Harris later did not know how the money for setting up the school was raised, but speculated that it was with the help of Tyrone Guthrie.[3]

The school

The first classes of the new school were in rooms in Beak Street which had once been used as practice rooms by Serge Diaghilev. As they were small, the students were not all on site at the same time. Then, with financial help from a student named Laura Dyas, a purpose-designed school was created[4] in Providence Hall, a former Strict Baptist chapel in Providence Place, Upper Street, Islington,[5][3] with a conversion of the building designed by Marcel Breuer and F. R. S. Yorke.[6] Breuer designed the stage and auditorium, and also all the furniture, much of which was in moulded plywood.[3] The contract for the building works was dated July 1936, and for the furniture September 1936.[7] An Oxford friend of Devine, Peter Bayne, was brought in as business manager,[3] and a limited liability company, London Theatre Studio Ltd, was incorporated.[7]

The new school followed the methods of Copeau, as developed further by Saint-Denis,[1] and in its first term had twenty-four students.[8]

Huang Zuolin
Huang Zuolin

The school's design course was taught by Sophie Harris, Margaret Harris, and Elizabeth Montgomery, who were collectively a unit known as Motley, and Richard Southern taught stage scenery design and its history. This was the first theatrical design course at an English drama school.[9] George Devine was Assistant Director of the school and taught lighting.[10] Saint-Denis taught directing, and Huang Zuolin was among his students.[11]

While he was in England, Saint-Denis also worked in theatre, including directing productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Alec Guinness, Michael Redgrave, John Gielgud, and Laurence Olivier were among those he directed,[1] and Guinness, who was already working as an actor, took classes at the Studio.[4] At this time, there were some sixteen professional actors enrolled as students.[12]

The London Theatre Studio was closed in 1939, as a result of the outbreak of the Second World War.[2] In July 1941, an extraordinary general meeting of London Theatre Studio Ltd decided to wind up the company voluntarily, as it "cannot by reason of its liabilities continue its business".[13]


Saint-Denis stayed in England, and from 1940 to 1944 was the director of Radio Londres, a BBC station broadcasting in French. After the war, he established the Old Vic Theatre School (1946–1948) with George Devine and Glen Byam Shaw. He went on to found a new drama school in Strasbourg in 1954, and in 1960 was an advisor for the creation of the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal.[2]

Margaret Harris was later a director of the Motley Theatre Design Course, a historian of which has observed that her aims "...hearkened back to the London Theatre Studio ideal of a ‘company’ who work in happy collaboration, rather than a group of individuals in creative competition with each other".[14]

A drama instructor at the school, Oliver Reynolds (1908–1998) was rejected for military service when the London Theatre Studio closed and spent the war years transcribing books into Braille. After the war, he launched his own drama school, before in 1951 joining the staff of the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art.[15]

Notable staff

Sophie Harris
Sophie Harris

Notable students

See also Category:Alumni of the London Theatre Studio
Peter Ustinov
Peter Ustinov


  1. ^ a b c Fonds Michel Saint-Denis in the British Library,, accessed 8 December 2020
  2. ^ a b c d "Saint-Denis, Michel Jacques (1897–1971)" in Jonathan Law, The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre, pp. 936, 937
  3. ^ a b c d Michael Mullin, Design by Motley (Associated University Press, 1996), p. 61
  4. ^ a b c "The London Theatre Studio, by Sophie Jump",, accessed 14 December 2020
  5. ^ Eric A Willats, Streets with a Story: The Book of Islington (1986), p. 153, online edition (2020)
  6. ^ London Theatre Studio, Upper Street, Islington, London: the foot of the proscenium,, accessed 8 December 2020
  7. ^ a b Contract and specification of works by F.R.S. Yorke and Marcel Breuer for alterations and additions to Providence Hall, Upper Street, Islington, for the London Theatre Studio Ltd, July 1936, and contract for constructing and erecting furniture to their designs, September 1936. YoF/1/5,, accessed 14 December 2020
  8. ^ Marie Christine Autant Mathieu, Yana Meerzon, The Routledge Companion to Michael Chekhov (London: Routledge, 2015), p. 215
  9. ^ a b c d e Theatre Design & Technology, Volume 30 (Spring, 1994), p. 13
  10. ^ a b Nigel H. Morgan, Stage Lighting Design in Britain: The Emergence of the Lighting Designer, 1881-1950 (Entertainment Technology Press, 2005), pp. 208, 257
  11. ^ a b Faye Chunfang Fei, Chinese Theories of Theater and Performance from Confucius to the Present (University of Michigan Press, 1999), p. 154
  12. ^ Marie Christine Autant Mathieu, Yana Meerzon, eds., The Routledge Companion to Michael Chekhov (London: Routledge, 2015), p. 215
  13. ^ The London Gazette, 29 July 1941, Issue 35232, p. 4386
  14. ^ Michael Mullin, Design by Motley, Chapter 14: The Motley Legacy (1966-) (Associated University Presses, 1996 ISBN 0-87413-569-9), p. 207
  15. ^ Fellows' & Members' News 1990s (St John's College, Cambridge), p. 244, accessed 12 December 2020
  16. ^ "Marius Goring, Actor who starred in The Red Shoes and was Romeo to Peggy Ashcroft's Juliet"] (obituary), The Daily Telegraph, Issue 1233, 10 October 1998
  17. ^ a b Cathy Courtney, Jocelyn Herbert, A Theatre Workbook (Art Books International, 1993 ISBN 1-874044-23-6), p. 211
  18. ^ Charles Landstone, Off-stage: A Personal Record of the First Twelve Years of Stage Sponsored Drama in Great Britain (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1953), p. 154
  19. ^ Adam Benedick, "Obituary: James Donald", The Independent, 16 August 1993, accessed 12 December 2020
  20. ^ Peter Billingham, Theatre of Conscience 1939-53: A Study of Four Touring British Community Theatres (Routledge Harwood Contemporary Theatre Studies, 2001), p. 89
  21. ^ Frances Spalding, 20th Century Painters and Sculptors (Antique Collectors' Club, 1990, ISBN 1851491066), p. 123
  22. ^ "Noel Willman (1918 - 1988): Actor, theatre director and producer",, accessed 12 December 2020
  23. ^ Veronica Horwell, "Sonia Rolt obituary Campaigner for the preservation of canals and historic buildings", The Guardian, 31 October 2014, accessed 12 December 2020
  24. ^ Ian Herbert, Christine Baxter, Robert E. Finley, Who's who in the Theatre: A Biographical Record of the Contemporary Stage, Volume 16 (Pitman, 1977), p. 1202
  25. ^ John Lahr, "The Lady and Tennessee", The New Yorker, 19 December 1994, accessed 8 December 2020
  26. ^ Maureen Pryor,, accessed 12 December 2020

This page was last edited on 4 August 2021, at 08:30
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