As the Redgrave Theatre in Clifton turns 50, archivist & author C.S Knighton gives us a run down of the theatre's history...

You may struggle to believe it today, but Clifton College did not always encourage theatrical artistry. During the institutions early days, the clerical installation associated the arts with both depravity and idleness. 

Thankfully, with the Knighting of popular actor Henry Irving in 1895, attitudes toward the arts slowly began to change. In that same year, newly appointed headmaster A.A David made way for Clifton’s first theatrical performance, and in doing so, a taste for the arts was born. 

The fight for a theatre begins

A theatrical tradition may have begun, but there still remained the question of where to perform. 

For a time, thespians including Sir Michael Redgrave himself were expected to perform at the college’s ‘Big School’, a space branded “unsuited for the presentation of a play of any period” by the man who would come to share his name with the Clifton theatre. 

While performances moved to the Pre Hall in 1937, World War Two saw soldiers and actors having to share a space, not a comfortable compromise. Following the war, and the arrival of dramatically passionate mathematics teacher John Hersee in 1959, the calls for a stage grew ever louder.
Backed by brand new and theatrically inclined Headmaster Stephern McWaters, Hersee’s argument for the arts was heard by the Finance Committee in the July, and finally given the go ahead in December 1963. 

Construction begins 

With a workforce consisting of professional labourers and eager to volunteer pupils, construction of the new theatre began in 1965.

The sight of schoolboys tinkering with hazardous materials may not be a welcomed sight today, but the job was completed by 1966 without incident nor accident, and Sir Michael Redgrave himself was welcomed back for opening night. 

With a dramatic reading of the works of Shakespeare, Coleridge, Robert Graves and Hans Christian Anderson, Cliftonian culture was changed forever as the arts finally took prominence at centre stage. 

While originally known simply as The Clifton Theatre, the stage became forever synonymous with Sir Michael Redgrave and in 1984 the name was changed in honour of the famous graduate and his success on stage and screen. 

Today, the Redgrave Theatre remains as a staple of Clifton creativity, and continues to inspire thespians, playwrights and audiences alike. 


Redgrave Theatre
Redgrave Theatre

Hidden aware in the beautiful suburb of Clifton the Redgrave Theatre is one of Bristol’s most popular theatres hosting a wide variety of productions including operas, musicals, stand-up comedy, theatre and dance.