News and events from the University of Brighton's Humanities programme areas

Prestigious publication for The Shakespeare Hut

A University of Brighton academic’s new book has been published in the world’s leading Shakespeare scholarship series.

Dr Ailsa Grant Ferguson’s The Shakespeare Hut: A Story of Memory, Performance and Identity was published by The Arden Shakespeare, an imprint of prestigious publishers Bloomsbury.

The book is the product of years of research for Dr Grant Ferguson and tells the story of the Shakespeare Hut – a mock-Tudor building, constructed in Bloomsbury in 1916 for New Zealand Anzac soldiers visiting London on leave from the First World War.

Staffed almost entirely by female volunteers, the “Hut” was the only memorial that marked Shakespeare’s Tercentenary during the war. The biggest theatrical talent of the era trod the boards of the venue’s small stage.

Of the Arden publication, Dr Grant Ferguson said: “It’s a really strange and wonderful feeling because I remember reading the Arden editions while studying Shakespeare at school and university.

“Being published by the Arden is really important because it validates the story – a story which is important to New Zealand, women’s history, and how we understand Shakespeare. It validates the importance of that story in the wider world of Shakespeare scholarship as well as to the everyday reader who recognises the Arden as an authoritative imprint.”

Dr Grant Ferguson’s research around the Shakespeare Hut has attracted the attention of national media including BBC Radio 3 and 4, The Guardian and The Evening Standard. Ailsa said the long legacy of the Hut was a result of its continuing social importance.

“The theatre was extraordinarily significant,” she said. “It had a tiny stage and doubled as a dormitory, but it could fit about four of five hundred soldiers in it, squeezed on folding chairs. The stage was managed by famous actresses and suffragists, including Gertrude Elliot and Edith Craig.

“There were men on the stage, but the women managed and directed the plays. That’s hugely significant in the history of theatre, when even now there is an ongoing debate about representation on the stage.

“The actors who performed at the Hut were some of the most famous of their time – Ellen Terry, Johnston Forbes-Robinson, Ben Greet. That’s like setting up a little stage and putting on Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Kenneth Brannagh.”

The Hut played a pivotal role in the history and reputation of UK theatre.

Dr Grant Ferguson said: “Two of our greatest national institutions – the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company – were partly born from the Shakespeare Hut. The Hut had been forgotten until this research was done. It was meant to be the National Theatre’s space but it was never built there, but the NT’s roots and ideas are in the Hut.

“Meanwhile after the war, the Hut became a space for Indian intellectuals to gather. It was run by the YMCA and the rent from their Indian Students Hostel was designed to pay for the first national touring Shakespeare company, the New Shakespeare Company, which was the seed that grow into the Royal Shakespeare Company we know today.”

For more information about the Shakespeare Hut

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Dr Ailsa Grant FergusonThe Shakespeare Hut: A Story of Memory Performance and Identity

Kate Miller • April 16, 2019

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