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Company History

27 years
100 productions
1.8m audience members

English Touring Theatre evolved out of Century Theatre, one of the first touring theatre companies to be founded just after the Second World War.

Century Theatre worked as a collective, touring the country in a pop-up space called The Blue Box. As well as a performance venue, The Blue Box trailers included dressing rooms, scenery stores, accommodation and a kitchen/dining room, all towed by a couple of ex-service trucks. After many years on the road, the Century Theatre set down their roots in Keswick, eventually becoming Theatre by the Lake, whilst the company’s touring arm became based in Crewe. When Stephen Unwin was appointed as Artistic Director of Century Theatre’s touring work, he rebranded the company and founded English Touring Theatre.

So whilst ETT was officially founded in 1993, the vision to take creatively ambitious theatre as wide and far as possible began in the 1940’s, and is still very much at the heart of our mission today.

“English, Touring and Theatre are my three favourite words in the English language. Put together they are more wonderful still.”

Sir Ian McKellen, ETT Patron

Our Artistic Directors

Soon after founding the company, Stephen directed a landmark production of Hamlet starring Alan Cumming in the title role. The production transferred to the Donmar Warehouse and went on to receive two Shakespeare Globe Nominations and a TMA Best Actor Award. ETT quickly became known for award-winning productions and world premieres including Jonathan Harvey’s Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club (Donmar and West End); Hushabye Mountain (Hampstead Theatre, directed by Paul Miller, with Andrew Lincoln); The York Realist (Royal Court and West End, written and directed by Peter Gill); Richard Bean’s Honeymoon Suite (Royal Court, directed by Paul Miller); and Uncle Vanya (Rose, Kingston, directed by Peter Hall).

Other successes of this era included Hedda Gabler (TMA Best Touring Production; Ian Charleson Award, Alexandra Gilbreath; also Donmar); Henry IV Parts One and Two with Timothy West and Samuel West (also Old Vic); The Seagull (Ian Charleson Award, Mark Bazeley; also Donmar); Marty Cruickshank’s A Difficult Age; The Taming of the Shrew (with Kacey Ainsworth); The Master Builder (TMA Best Supporting Actress, Emma Cunniffe); The Cherry Orchard with Prunella Scales; Ghosts (TMA Best Actress, Diana Quick; MEN Award); King Lear (TMA Best Actor, Timothy West; MEN Award; also Old Vic); John Gabriel Borkman with Michael Pennington, Gillian Barge and Linda Bassett, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Hamlet with Ed Stoppard and Anita Dobson (also West End); The Old Country with Timothy West, Jean Marsh and Simon Williams (also West End); Brecht’s Mother Courage with Diana Quick, and Someone Else’s Shoes by Drew Pautz with Denise Gough and Jonjo O’Neill (Soho Theatre).

UK Theatre Awards
Best Play Revival 2019: Equus
Best Touring Production 2016: The Herbal Bed
Best Touring Production 2015: Twelfth Night
Best Touring Production 2014: Translations
Best Touring Production 2012: Anne Boleyn

TMA Theatre Awards
Best Actor: Timothy West, King Lear
Best Actress: Diana Quick, Ghosts
Best Actress In A Supporting Role: Emma Cuniffe, The Master Builder
Best Touring Production: Hedda Gabler
Best Actress: Kelly Hunter, As You Like It
Best Actor: Alan Cumming, Hamlet

“Culture shows the existence of different ways of thinking about the world, and exposes prejudice, injustice and lies for what they are”

Stephen Unwin

In 2008 Rachel Tackley took over the directorship, making ETT the first large scale subsidised touring company to be producer-led. During Rachel’s tenure ETT produced over 40 productions, including musicals such as Been So Long (produced with the Young Vic), classics such as Tartuffe and The Hypochondriac adapted by Roger Mcgough, and new writing including Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton, Thursday by Bryony Lavery and Little Baby Jesus by Arinze Kene.

Under Rachel’s leadership the company won Best Touring Production at the UK Theatre Awards three years in a row: in 2014 for Translations, directed by James Grieve, in 2015 for Twelfth Night, directed by Jonathan Munby, in a co-production with Sheffield Theatres, and in 2016 for The Herbal Bed directed by James Dacre, in co-production with Royal & Derngate Northampton and Rose Theatre Kingston.

Time Out Dubai
Best Theatrical Performance 2019: Othello

Black British Theatre Awards
Best Choreographer 2019: Shelley Maxwell for Equus

Manchester Evening News Awards
Best Visiting Production 2017: The Weir

The Stage Awards
Producer Of The Year 2010

Critics Circle Award
Best Play: Peter Gill, The York Realist

Richard Twyman took up the role of Artistic Director of ETT in November 2016.

Richard Twyman took up the role of Artistic Director of ETT in November 2016. In his first season the company co-produced Rules for Living by Sam Holcroft, directed by Simon Godwin, and the 20th Anniversary tour of Conor McPherson’s award winning play, The Weir, which was subsequently extended into 2018.

For the company’s 25th anniversary year, ETT produced bold productions of seminal plays including A Streetcar Named Desire directed by 2017 RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award winner Chelsea Walker, a revival of Richard Twyman’s reimagining of Othello, and a critically acclaimed new production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus directed by Ned Bennett. The company also produced a major revival of Martin Crimp’s Dealing with Clair, directed by Richard Twyman (at Orange Tree Theatre) and new plays including The Funeral Director, by Iman Qureshi, winner of the 2018 Papatango New Writing Prize, directed by Hannah Hauer-King, and Cougar by Rose Lewenstein, directed by Chelsea Walker (also Orange Tree Theatre). In 2019 Othello toured internationally to Dubai and Shanghai, and Equus was transferred to Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End. 2019 also saw ETT tour August Wilson’s award winning Two Trains Running, directed by 2018 RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award winner Nancy Medina, and a stage adaptation of Matt Haig’s Sunday Times Best Seller, Reasons to Stay Alive.

2020 began with Inua Ellams’ Little Prince, directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr., in association with Fuel Theatre at Stratford Circus and on tour. It was set to be followed by the UK Premiere of Kate Attwell’s Testmatch, Directed by Nicole Charles and the World Premiere of Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad and Me directed by John R.Wilkinson, but both productions had to be postponed due to Covid-19.