Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The Sunday night productions without decor were a series of ninety-nine fully rehearsed plays each presented with minimal scenery or costumes for one or two nights at the Royal Court Theatre, in London, from 1957-1975. This program, along with the main bill productions of the English Stage Company, staged the works of new playwrights who gave voice to the concerns and problems of the young and the working class, two groups previously ignored in the English theatre. After the success of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956), the ESC, under the leadership of George Devine, was unable to accommodate many of the new scripts that arrived at the Royal Court. Devine needed a second stage also in order to test and train directors for future responsibility in the company. The productions without decor, created by Devine in 1957, satisfied both of these requirements. During the late fifties this series not only introduced several significant playwrights, such as John Arden and N. F. Simpson, but was instrumental in discovering three important directors for the ESC: John Dexter, Lindsay Anderson, and William Gaskill. During the sixties the private club status of the English Stage Society allowed the productions without decor to evade the scrutiny of the Lord Chamberlain and played a role in abolishing censorship in British theatre. Edward Bond and Christopher Hampton were two of the major playwrights who emerged through the Sunday night series in the sixties. The production without decor of A Collier's Friday Night in 1966, helped launch Peter Gill's directing career and led to the discovery of D. H. Lawrence as a dramatist. In 1969 the ESC opened by the Theatre Upstairs in the roof of the Royal Court to provide another outlet for new scripts. This space consumed a great deal of the company's energy during the seventies. Because of the loss of critical attention, the rise of alternative or fringe theatre, and increasing union scales for actors and technicians, the Sunday night series became undesirable as a means for staging plays. Although the productions without decor were terminated in 1975, the ESC has continued its commitment to developing new playwrights and young talent through the Young People's Theatre Scheme and a series of Rehearsed Readings.