Northcott Theatre

Coordinates: 50°44′09″N 3°32′07″W / 50.7358°N 3.5352°W / 50.7358; -3.5352

The Northcott Theatre is a theatre situated on the Streatham Campus of the University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon, England.


The Northcott is the seventh building in Exeter to be used as a theatre.

In 1962, the Theatre Royal, Exeter was demolished to be replaced by an office block; however there were many people in Exeter who were determined that the city should not be without a theatre for very long. Early in 1962 Mr G V Northcott had started negotiations with the Board of Directors of the Theatre Royal with the view to "saving" the theatre, and its re-creation as a theatre and arts centre. A small group from the University of Exeter prepared a memorandum explaining how they saw the Theatre Royal functioning in the kind of way that Mr Northcott visualised and outlining some ideas. They submitted this memorandum to the Board of Directors of the Theatre Royal and to Mr Northcott. After some time, however, negotiations failed to develop and the Theatre Royal was sold.

For a time, informal discussions continued between Mr Northcott and the University, and later in 1962 more formal contacts were made. The then Vice-Chancellor pointed out that the University had for some time earmarked a site for a theatre on its Development Plan and it was possible that, in collaboration with the University, Mr Northcott's ideas for a theatre and arts centre could be realised.

Ultimately, the University offered a site: Mr Northcott established a trust with a benefaction of £100,000 (later supplemented by a generous gift of £50,000 from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and by other bodies), to establish the "Northcott Devon Theatre and Arts Centre", which would serve the needs of the community in the region. The Northcott Theatre opened with a production of The Merchant of Venice, starring Tony Church, its first Artistic Director, on 2 November 1967. Barbara Hepworth unveiled one of her sculptures in the foyer on opening night. The architects were Sir William Holford and Partners and the theatre consultant Michael Warre.

Actors who spent time in the Northcott company in their earlier careers include Polly James, Lesley Joseph, John Nettles, Robert Lindsay, Brian Protheroe, Bob Peck, Geraldine James, Celia Imrie, Nick Brimble and Imelda Staunton. In its first years, the company originated a number of plays of West Country interest, including new historical drama by Jack Emery and an adaptation of the Cornish Passion Play. It also toured productions throughout the area.

The Theatre in recent years

The Northcott continued to serve the needs of the local community. The Board of Management is representative of both the University and of the community, and the University provides for the Director's salary and assists in the maintenance of the building. Financial assistance towards the running costs also comes from South West Arts, Devon County Council, the City of Exeter, East Devon District Council, Teignbridge District Council, and Mid-Devon District Council.

The Northcott has always been a producing repertory theatre, that is to say the bulk of the productions are staged by the company itself, rather than being brought in from elsewhere.

The Northcott has customarily been open for approximately 44 weeks of the year, during which time some 10 or 11 in-house or co-produced shows are mounted for runs of between 10 days to 3½ weeks (the Christmas show being the only one that runs for approximately 6 weeks). It has developed links with other theatre companies, leading to several joint ventures. This development is one which the company hopes to build on, including perhaps links with other repertory companies across the country. Northcott Theatre company productions vary from comedies to tragedies, new writing to classics. To a lesser degree, the Northcott also presents visiting companies (e.g. English Touring Opera), amateur productions and some one-night events. Its annual open air Shakespeare performance in the grounds of Rougemont Castle is well regarded nationally. It also promotes a Drama in Education group now called "Northcott Young Company".

The Northcott employs 20 full-time staff to mount shows, administer and market the theatre. There is also a large team of part-time workers including box office staff, usherettes, bar staff and backstage casuals.

As built the theatre was given a semicircular main house auditorium seating 433 people with an orchestra pit on a mechanical lift; being also configurable as theatre in the round or cinema. The capacity of the venue was increased in the 2007 refurbishment and it can now seat 466.

Expansion and threatened closure

In March 2005, the directors of the Northcott announced that planning permission and funding would be sought for a £3.1 million building project to expand front of house facilities and increase the capacity of the auditorium to 538 seats.

Having raised £2.1 million, the theatre was closed for refurbishment in January 2007 and reopened on 12 December 2007, near the fortieth anniversary of its first opening.

The refurbishment provided the following;

  • New auditorium seating
  • Additional wheelchair spaces
  • A lift to all public levels, providing full disabled access
  • Improved disabled facilities
  • Redecorated and upgraded public areas
  • Additional space for eating and drinking in the foyer
  • An enhanced entrance area
  • Refurbished and improved technical areas

The day before the rebranded Exeter Northcott reopened in December 2007, Arts Council England threatened withdrawal of its entire £547,000 annual grant. The loss of a third of the theatre's operating costs would result in a drastic cutback in production and job losses, if the theatre even managed to stay open. However on 1 February 2008 the Arts Council England announced a reprieve for the Exeter Northcott and its continued funding.

Following the discovery of a legacy of accounting problems inherited from the previous management, the trustees placed the theatre into administration on 25th February 2010. This decision was opposed by Arts Council England which had earlier sent in a forensic accountant to investigate the extent of the problem. These investigations had not yet been completed. Geoff Myers, chairman of the theatre's trustees, said: "We took this decision with a heavy heart but when presented with the latest financial information we had no choice but to place the theatre into administration. It is to be hoped that a way can be found to effect a rescue of the theatre." Exeter City Council and the university have agreed to help find a way to save the theatre. On 5 June 2010 it was confirmed by administrators Begbies Traynor that a new company set up by the university had purchased the theatre, the Exeter Northcot Theatre Company, and the immediate future of the theatre is now thought to be secure.

Artistic Directors

List formerly published on the Northcott Theatre website

  • 1967 - 1971: Tony Church (Artistic Director), Robin Phillips (Associate Director), Bernard Goss (Writer in Residence)
  • 1971 - 1974: Jane Howell (Artistic Director), Jack Emery & Kevin Robinson (Associate Directors)
  • 1974 - 1977: Geoffrey Reeves (Artistic Director)
  • 1978 - 1980: Richard Digby Day (Artistic Director), Michael Winter & Crispin Thomas (Associate Directors)
  • 1981 - 1985: Stewart Trotter (Artistic Director)
  • 1986 - 1990: George Roman (Artistic Director), Martin Harvey (Associate Director)
  • 1991 - 1998: John Durnin (Artistic Director), Tim Carroll (Associate Director), Charlotte Conquest & Gillian King (Assistant Directors), Robert Shearman (Writer in Residence)
  • 1998 - 2008: Ben Crocker (Artistic Director)
  • 2008 - 2010: Rebecca Manson Jones (position retitled to 'Creative Director')

Building Activity

  • removed a media
    about 6 years ago via