The story this book reveals has never been told before. Everyone knows about the Bloomsbury Group and their influence on art and style, on literature, life and manners, even on psychology and economics. But hitherto no one suspected that they have an equally profound influence on English theatre, especially on productions of Shakespeare, most especially on the foundation of the RSC. New research now traces the connections from William Poel and the Elizabethan Stage Society in the late Nineteenth Century to the foundation of the Marlowe Dramatic Society in Cambridge in 1907. Rupert Brooke is an early and active member and his friendships with Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey link the new Society to Bloomsbury. The link is developed after the First World War by another friend of Woolf and Strachey and legendary don of King’s College, George (“Dadie”) Rylands, who directs Marlowe Society productions from 1929 to 1966. It is yet another member of Bloomsbury and even more legendary don at King’s, Maynard Keynes, who builds the Cambrige Arts Theatre in 1936, managed by Rylands, where the Marlowe Society has performed ever since. This is the Theatre that Peter Hall haunts as a schoolboy and acts in as a student, in productions of Shakespeare directed by Rylands and (King’s College again!) John Barton. In 1959 Barton leaves King’s to join Peter Hall at the foundation of the RSC. From the same nursery of talent come Trevor Nunn, Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and many others, the so-called Cambridge Mafia. The continuity is so remarkable that in the perspective of this history one might almost call them the Bloomsbury Group in disguise.
‘The Marlowe has had more influence on British theatre than, I think, anybody knows’ —Sir Peter Hall
‘This is a most welcome addition not only to the history of theatre but also to the history of Bloomsbury, uncovering a relatively unknown aspect of its influential connections.’ —Frances Spalding