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Drama: audio and video collections

The British Library holds a unique collection of drama, including live performances from the Royal National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court Theatre. Material is drawn from commercial releases, broadcasts, the BBC's sound archives and the Library's own live recording programme. 

Amina Khayyam

Amina Khayyam at the shinkansen/Akademi digiID workshop on dance and telematics, Nehru Centre, London, July 2002 (photo: Vipul Sangoi)

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Sound recordings

  • Royal Shakespeare Company - London productions 1964-2002, Stratford productions since 2004.
  • National Theatre - productions 1963-2008.
  • Royal Court Theatre - productions 1970-2013.
  • Aldwych World Theatre Seasons - original language productions from 1964 to 1975.
  • BBC Radio drama - from the 1930s to the present day.
  • Recordings from the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, the London International Festival of Theatre, the West End, provincial theatres and touring companies.

Listen to Ken Campbell introducing his 'Pidgin Macbeth' at the Royal National Theatre, London.

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Video recordings

Between 1985 and 1995 the British Library made video recordings of performances from the London International Festival of Theatre, Barclays New Stages and the ICA Theatre. More recently, digital video documentation of performances of fringe theatre and live art has taken place at London venues such as Battersea Arts Centre and the Chelsea Theatre. In addition, a number of recordings have been donated by performers and video makers.

Together with related television material recorded off air, these recordings form one of the country's most comprehensive publicly accessible resources for the study of contemporary creative practice in British theatre. Companies and performers represented include Forced Entertainment, Marina Abramovic, Ron Athey, Bobby Baker, Desperate Optimists, Gloria, Annie Griffin, Holly Hughes, Lumière & Son, Moti Roti, Reckless Sleepers, Stan's Cafe, Station House Opera, Goat Island and the Wooster Group.

Published recordings

The Library aims to collect all UK-released recordings of comedy, drama, literary performance and sound art, supplementing our holdings with otherwise inaccessible audio and video material from Europe and the USA. 

Accessing the collection

To access sound and moving image material:

  • Use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
  • The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can be accessed in Boston Spa also.
  • The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.
  • Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on the British Library Sounds website. A large number of the recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited Higher Education establishments.
  • The Transcription Service can provide copies of recordings once the appropriate copyright has been cleared.

Further information

Drama and Literature Section
The British Library
Sound Archive
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7447
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441

E-mail: drama@bl.uk