Formation of Newcastle’s Clarion Drama Club

Event date(s)

17 March 1911

Description/importance

The first meeting of Newcastle's Clarion Drama Club took place on 17 March 1911. These drama clubs were a national phenomenon, and part of the movement associated with Robert Blatchford's socialist newspaper The Clarion. The earliest were formed in Manchester and Birmingham, and there were 10 across the country by 1910. Along with cycling clubs, swimming clubs and holiday clubs, Clarion drama groups were a means of fulfilling the movement's ambition to broaden the appeal of socialism. One of the immediate triggers for the foundation of the Newcastle group was the need to raise funds for the city's branch of the British Socialist Party, which also used the rooms on Leazes Park Road. The club's initiators included Colin Veitch (also the captain of Newcastle United football club), Norman Veitch, and Wilf Armstrong. In 1915 the group moved to premises in the Royal Arcade on Pilgrim Street; in 1929 they moved to a converted chapel at Rye Hill; and in 1962 into the former Lyric cinema in Heaton. This is still the home of Newcastle's People's Theatre. The theatre had severed its connection with the BSP during the First World War, and changed its name, dropping the Clarion banner, during the 1920s. In its Royal Arcade days the theatre was nevertheless still described as 'the left-wing cultural centre of the town'. The drama group's performance of George Bernard Shaw's The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet in September 1911 defied the Lord Chamberlain's censorship of this play on the grounds of its open discussion of prostitution. This was the first of many performances of Shaw's plays: Shaw also visited the theatre twice, in 1921 and 1936. The group also had a strong repertoire of plays by international playwrights, including Ibsen and Tolstoy.

Further reading

Christopher Goulding, The Story of the People's (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1991); Norman Veitch, The People's: being a history of the People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1911-1939 (Gateshead, 1950); K. Armstrong, 'People's Theatre: People's Education', North East History 39 (2008) pp. 144-152.

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