Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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Riverside Theatre Studio 1975-1983

By John Burgess, Dianne Borger and Peter Gill

The Riverside Theatre Studio began in the spring of 1975 when Peter Gill ran an eight-week workshop for actors, funded jointly by Nottingham Playhouse and the Royal Court Theatre. Out of this work grew two productions, The Fool at the Royal Court and As You Like It at Nottingham Playhouse and the Edinburgh Festival. It was a revival of this As You Like It with the Company giving their services free, which formed Riverside’s first theatrical presentation at the opening weekend in May 1976 and since that time the Theatre Studio and its work have been an integral part of Riverside Studios. Members who took part in As You Like It included:

Anthony Douse Malcolm Ingram
George Fenton Jane Lapotaire
Mick Ford John Normington
Nigel Hawthorne John Price
James Hazeldine Susan Porrett
Caroline Hutchison Matthew Scurfield
Zöe Wanamaker

The idea for a Studio arose out of the search for a solution to one of the perennial dilemmas of the British theatre: a director and actors evolve a fruitful collaboration on a specific piece of work and then are obliged to go their separate ways, losing contact until the next working opportunity brings them together again, months, maybe years later. Creative relationships are dispersed and it is difficult to sustain the continuity of these successful collaborations through a series of discontinuous working situations. The Theatre Studio evolved as a partial solution to this problem. It has always been freely structured, enabling members to assume more or less active roles depending on the requirements of the moment.

The work of the Riverside Theatre Studio has manifested itself in several ways. There have been regular twice-weekly sessions examining in-depth most aspects of performance; and there have been concentrated workshops, varying in length from two days to one month, focusing on a particular idea. The Theatre Studio has also served as an umbrella for special projects initiated by individual members and for workshops, conducted by visiting specialists, using the Studio facilities and involving the membership.

The Theatre Studio played a vital part in creating the atmosphere of Riverside Studios. The creative forum it provided through its weekly meetings came to constitute a sort of unofficial company and meant that there were many actors who, identifying themselves with the work that went on at Riverside, provided invaluable help, not only in lobbying and fund raising on the organisation’s behalf, but also by appearing in productions or foyer presentations for very little money. From The Cherry Orchard through to Touch and Go there was not a single production that did not include at least one member of the Theatre Studio. The Studio also renewed itself by recruiting actors for the new productions, so that the relationship between workshop and presentation was a reciprocal one.

A partial chronology highlighting the Theatre Studio work from 1977 to 1983 follows.  The majority of the projects/workshops/classes took place in the cinema of Riverside Studios unless otherwise noted.

Chronology of the Riverside Theatre Studio


Month-long workshop for actors, with support from the Arts Council. Classes in movement from Rosemary Butcher; work on text and Jacobean drama by Peter’ Gill; special projects From a Writer’s Notebook conducted by John Burgess, with work lent by David Cregan, Ron Forfar, Michael McGrath, Stephen Poliakoff, and Peter Tegel. Full-time participants were:

Jo Blatchley Angela Morant
Ian Charleson Anthony O’Donnell
Lynn Farleigh Stephen Petcher
Julian Hough Susan Porrett
Malcolm Ingram Jennie Stoller
Philip Joseph Di Trevis
Shiela Kelly Zoe Wanamaker

In addition, there was a weekly open class for actors not able to make the four-week commitment. The workshop ended with a demonstration of the work on Shakespearean scenes and From a Writer’s Notebook and with a rehearsed reading of Ron Forfar’s One Is One.

Beginning of regular twice-weekly meetings to wider margin in their interests that proved to be a central thread in the Studio’s development.

Series of Shakespearean workshops by Tina Packer, culminating in a production without decor of King Lear.

Three-day workshop for young actors (18-25), attracting over 40 participants.

Two-day get-together for young directors to discuss their problems. A production, I Made It, Ma — Top of the World, originated with two directors from that group continuing to work at Riverside.

Main-house production: Small Change, by Peter Gill.


Twice-weekly sessions for Studio members continue in the cinema.

Two two-day workshops for Studio members, focusing on developing an approach to text.

Children’s entertainment by Derek Carpenter.

Main-house production: The Cherry Orchard.

Rehearsed reading: One Third of the Kingdom, by Michael McGrath.

Rehearsed reading: The Weekend, by Simon Purcell.

Workshop production: One is One, by Ron Forfar.

Main-house production: Treetops, by Nicholas Wright.

Main-house production: The Changeling.

Organised and hosted a weekend workshop for young directors on the Arts Council and Thames Television training schemes, giving them the opportunity of meeting other directors, writers, designers and performers — including Lindsay Anderson, Max Stafford Clark, Peter Gill, John Burgess, Michael Joyce, Nicholas Wright, Anna Massey, Roddy Maude Roxby and Pamela Howard.


Twice-weekly sessions for Studio members continue in the cinema.

Workshop with actors from Joint Stock.

Third directors’ workshop. John Burgess and David Gothard interviewed all the young directors – some thirty or forty in number – who had written asking for work and invited a group to spend a couple of days at Riverside discussing their position and aspirations.

Main-house production: Measure for Measure.

Poetry and Stories for Young Children, presented in the foyer throughout August by Theatre Studio members.


Twice-weekly sessions for Studio members continue in the cinema.

Main-house production: Julius Caesar.

Conversion work done over the summer on the old BBC canteen to become the permanent home of the Riverside Theatre Studio. Labour and money for materials donated by the members themselves.

Main-house productions: Plays Umbrella season

Rehearsed reading: The Raft by Robert Holman.

Rehearsed reading: Sharing, by Jeremy Seabrook and Michael O’Neill.

Rehearsed reading: Mod Times, by Peter Prince

Rehearsed reading: Our War, by Anthony Vivis

Rehearsed reading: Touch and Go, by D.H. Lawrence

David Leveaux appointed Theatre Studio Coordinator.


Newly converted Theatre Studio space given to Margaret Harris and the homeless Theatre Design Course, while new premises are sought for the Riverside Theatre Studio.

Sessions for Studio members continue in the cinema but on a less regular basis as they are affected by lack of permanent space.

Series of voice workshops for Studio members with Clare Davidson.

Weekly play-reading group established by John Price to read the lesser-known works of Shakespeare to place the known plays in the context of the canon of his work.

Three-week workshop in Shakespeare, with support from the National Theatre. Held at the Almeida Theatre, as the cinema was not available full-time. Participants were:

Gillian Barge James Hazeldine
John Burgess Mary MacLeod
Alison Chitty Ron Pember
Brian Cox Susan Porrett
Patrick Drury John Price
Lindsay Duncan Peter Sproule
Peter Gill Robert Swann
Penelope Wilton


Riverside Theatre Studio given new permanent home (the small room on the roof, formerly the office of the Artists Placement Group). Because the room is only suitable for small groups, it is agreed that the Theatre Studio will have access to the larger spaces in the building as the need arises.

Diane Borger appointed Studio Coordinator.

Resumption of regular weekly sessions for Studio members in the cinema. Instructors include: Gillian Barge, Rosemary Butcher, John Burgess, Doreen Cannon, Clare Davidson, Peter Gill, Malcolm Ingram, and David Leveaux.

Work together by Stephen Rea, James Hazeldine and Peter Gill on an early draft of Kick for Touch.

Six-week playwriting workshop by Ron Pember.

Special individual projects by Matthew Scurfield and Stephen Rea.

Three week-long workshops to introduce young actors to classical text, conducted by Di Trevis.

The Theatre Studio space was also lent to the Tara Arts Group and to David Leveaux’s Writers Workshop.


Seven-day workshop on voice and Shakespearean text, led by Kristin Linklater and Tina Packer (from Shakespeare & Co. in America) with support from the Arts Council. Held at the Irish Club as the cinema was not available because of re-roofing. Participants were:

Gillian Barge Philip Joseph
Ilann Ben-Neria Sue Lefton
Nicholas Clay Frances Lowe
Veronica Duffy Petra Markham
Elizabeth Estensen Angela Morant
Peter Firth Roger Lloyd Pack
Derek Fowlds Susan Porrett
Jane Gibson John Price
Lorna Heilbron Diana Quick
Del Henney Raad Rawi
William Hoyland Jennie Stoller
Malcolm Ingram Robert Swann
Di Trevis

In addition film-makers Nick Broomfield and Eva Koulouchova, drawn by the reputation of the instructors observed the workshop.

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Last modified: 2012-03-15