BRIGHT YOUNG TINGS exhibits at London’s National Theatre

An exhibition of photographs by Michael Mayhew and a new artwork by Cherelle Sappleton is on display in the Lyttelton Lounge at the National Theatre, now through April 15.

The photographs from the National Theatre Archive’s Michael Mayhew Collection is a rare snapshot of the work developed by Black Theatre practitioners between 1979 and 1982. Michael Mayhew was the NT’s Art Director (from 1976 – 2009) when he was first asked by Charlie Hanson to take publicity photographs of the newly established Black Theatre Co-operative.

In the 1970s and 80s there was an explosion of new Black-led theatre companies in the UK, primarily focused on London. This came about through frustration at being marginalized and misunderstood but was also inspired by the achievements of playwrights such as Barry Reckford, Errol John and Wole Soyinka in the 1950s and 1960s. The next generation of theatre producers and makers sought not only to stage plays exploring what it meant to be Black and British, but also to create an environment where young Black practitioners could access training in all aspects of theatre-making.

Mayhew went on to shoot more images of theatre productions and rehearsals with Foco Novo and Temba Theatre, leaving a legacy of over 1000 newly digitized photographs at the NT archive.

To respond to this archive collection, the NT has commissioned Cherelle Sappleton, a young British-Caribbean visual artist whose work focuses on photography, moving image and collage. For Sappleton, Mayhew’s images provide the opportunity to pause and consider the politics of ‘making’ and the spaces in which creative work can be made.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Vice-Chair of Act for Change said, ‘These pictures document a “big bang” of diversity in UK theatre that we can still see generating and inspiring life now.’

BRIGHT YOUNG TINGS exhibits now through April 17. Content is approved for all ages. Hours are 9:30am-11:30pm everyday. Admission is free.

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