English and Drama blog

On literature and theatre collections from the 16th century to the present day

19 August 2021

New Ted Hughes and Theatre display at the British Library

by Helen Melody, Lead Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. The display of Ted Hughes' work for the theatre can be seen until October. A related virtual event celebrating Hughes and theatre chaired by Melvyn Bragg with contributions from Jonathan Kent, David Thacker and Tim Supple will be held on Wednesday 15th September and is sure to provide further fascinating insight into the subject. Please see the Library’s events page for more information and to book tickets.

Fans of the poet and writer, Ted Hughes (1930-1998) will be interested to know that the British Library Treasures gallery is currently home to a one case display on Ted Hughes and his work for the theatre.

Although best known as a poet Ted Hughes was also an acclaimed writer of prose, non-fiction and dramatic work. Hughes worked on a number of theatrical projects throughout his career including writing the libretto for The Story of Vasco, an English version of the play L'Histoire De Vasco by Georges Schehade for Gordon Crosse, and Seneca’s Oedipus in collaboration with the acclaimed director, Peter Brook and his company in the 1960s. However, it was the 1990s, which proved to be a particularly productive period for Hughes’ theatrical work as he worked closely with theatre directors including Jonathan Kent, Tim Supple and David Thacker to create his own versions of European and classical plays including Spring Awakening, Phèdre, Alcestis and The Oresteia.

Photograph of the Hughes in Theatre Display in the Library's Treasures Gallery

The Hughes in Theatre Display in the Library's Treasures Gallery

The display consists of five items illustrating different aspects of Hughes’ work for the theatre and the collaborative relationships he developed with various directors and companies. It includes an early draft of Hughes’ version of Jean Racine’s Phèdre along with a letter to Jonathan Kent illustrating how Hughes changed his text after attending rehearsals; and a letter from 1960 in which Hughes wrote to his sister, Olwyn, about seeing a French language production of the play that made his hair stand on end. Other items relate to Seneca’s Oedipus in which John Gielgud played the title role.

This display is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to material on Hughes and theatre held by the Library, and I would definitely urge anyone who is interested to look at the catalogue of the Hughes archive for more information. The archive includes drafts of many of Hughes’ plays including notes and correspondence about The Epic of Gilgamesh on which Hughes was working not long before his death in 1998; and notes and papers relating to the stage version of Iron Man on which he collaborated with the director, David Thacker. See the Search Archives and Manuscripts catalogue (using Add MS 88918* as your search term) for further details.