Bright Young Tings

“We were proving ourselves to be young professionals - a feeling much sought after by our youth today.”

By National Theatre

Bright Young Tings Title Board, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Black Theatre in London 1979-1982





In the 1970s and 80s there was an explosion of new black-led theatre companies in the UK, primarily focused in London. This came about through frustration at being marginalised and misunderstood but was also inspired by the achievements of playwrights such as Barry Reckord, Errol John, and Wole Soyinka in the 50s and 60s. 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.



Photographs by Michael Mayhew and new artwork by Cherelle Sappleton

Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Michael Mayhew seen here in his National Theatre office in 1980, joined the NT in 1976 as a freelance graphic designer. He was appointed as the NT's Art Director in the mid-80s.

This exhibition of 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 National Theatre’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. Shot in 35mm black-and-white film on a Nikon EL2 camera, Mayhew’s tightly framed images capture the emergence of the Black Theatre Co-operative and a spirit of hope in its cast and company members. 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 digitised photographs at the NT Archive. Mayhew deposited his collection at the National Theatre Archive in 2012. Researching this collection revealed that in addition to photographing productions at the National, his private collection also documented a fascinating and rarely revisited period in black British theatre history.

Don Warrington, Portrait, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Don Warrington, Portrait (1979)

Vas Black Wood in One Rule by Mustapha Matura, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Vas Black Wood in One Rule by Mustapha Matura, (1981)

Victor Romero Evans in One Rule by Mustapha Matura, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Victor Romero Evans in One Rule by Mustapha Matura, (1981)

Gordon Case and Decima Francis in Trinity by Edgar Nkosi White, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Gordon Case and Decima Francis in Trinity by Edgar Nkosi White (1982)

Mustapha Matura, dir. Fingers Only by Yemi Ajibade (1982), Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Mustapha Matura, dir. Fingers Only by Yemi Ajibade (1982)

Brian Bovell in A Bit of Business by Brian Hall and Tunde Ikoli, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Brian Bovell in A Bit of Business by Brian Hall and Tunde Ikoli (1980)

Company of Fingers Only by Yemi Ajibade, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Company of Fingers Only by Yemi Ajibade (1982)

T-Bone Wilson, Christopher Asante, Ena Cabayo, Malcolm Frederick, Judith Jacob, Chris Tummings, Shope Shodeinde and Raymond Page 

Pauline Black in Trojans by Farruk Dhondy, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Pauline Black in Trojans by Farruk Dhondy (1982)

Mama Dragon Company, Michael Mayhew, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Trevor Laird, Shope Shodeinde, Barrington Levene, Calvert Connor, Paul Lawrence, Chris Tummings, Janet Kay, Victor Romero Evans, Brian Bovell, Malcolm Fredericks, Bella Freud, Michael Steele, Charlie Hanson

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.

Sappelton's artwork responds to the energy and resilience borne out of the frustrations experienced by these black theatre practitioners and their determination to make spaces for their work. It also considers the ways in which they collaborated as individuals and collectives to examine black British experiences. 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. As she explains, 'my collages are normally made from disposable or freely accessible materials such as magazines, but here I'm using historical documents as source artwork and this is complex. There is a sacredness in what is held in this archive. But archives are not complete, and if they are doing their jobs well, they will constantly transform’.

Hand-me-down (2017), Cherelle Sappleton, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Hand-me-down (2017)

Stand Together (2017), Cherelle Sappleton, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Stand Together (2017)

Stand Together (2017), Cherelle Sappleton, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Stand Together (2017)

Decima (2017), Cherelle Sappleton, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Decima (2017)            

Bright Young Tings Quote Board, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Chris Tummings, actor and founder member of Black Theatre Co-operative

Bright Young Tings Board, From the collection of: National Theatre
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Bright Young Tings negatives board displayed in the physical exhibition at the National Theatre in 2017.

Credits: Story

Curator—Natasha Bonnelame

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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