Record

Ref NoORC
TitleOSIRIS Repertory Company Archive
DescriptionArchive of the Osiris Repertory Company, which began in the 1920s but flourished as a touring company during WW2. This collection also holds records related to founder Nancy Hewins, and to its sideline as a Costume Hire Company.
Date1924 - 1978
AdminHistoryThe Osiris Repertory Company flourished during the war and the early fifties. It played in every county in the UK and Southern Ireland touring for nearly forty years.

The director and leading force was (Margaret) Nancy Hewins (1902 - 1978), daughter of W.A.S. Hewins (co-founder of the London School of Economics). Nancy Hewins was educated in London at Queen's Gate School, and then at St Hugh's College, Oxford (1921–4). Here she became fascinated by the theatre, and by lighting and sets in particular. On graduating in 1924, she started an amateur company called the Isis Players which played Shakespeare in tough east London schools, using floodlights made from old biscuit tins. Constance Allen, Henrietta Trend and Kay Jones supported her, as did Belgian Griffins and many ex-members. Under its unique contract actors were paid in kind with pocket money, Equity agreed to this, but finally The Osiris utilized the Standard Touring Contract. A switch to professionalism brought a change of name. The Osiris Players' first production was The Merchant of Venice in December 1927.

Nancy Hewins devoted her life to Osiris. It was always all-women, and never had more than seven players at a time. Everybody did everything: acting, props, cooking; Nancy also played the flute. Shakespeare was the heart of the repertory. Scenes were cut and minor speeches transposed to make the doubling work. Lady Macbeth was one of Nancy's parts and, applying a fresh makeup at speed, she could change from this to the Porter within a few lines. Osiris travelled in black and white Rolls-Royces, usually two at a time (though canoes, horses and an old ambulance were also commandeered); accommodation was on village hall floors, in digs, tents, and finally caravans. The Company acted on planks laid on boxes, on billiard tables, in castle courtyards and gardens, and until the sixties, seldom on stages of adequate size.

Nancy Hewins's finest hour, perhaps, came during the Second World War. She put on 1534 performances of thirty-three plays (sixteen of them by Shakespeare) in wartime, with the company travelling for a time by horse and dray because of petrol restrictions. She celebrated Osiris's twenty-first birthday at a women's institute in Kent with Twelfth Night in the morning, Everyman at lunchtime, Macbeth in the afternoon, Shaw's Captain Brassbound's Conversion after tea, and Badger's Green, R. C. Sherriff's comedy about village cricket, in the evening.

The company performed against all the odds throughout Great Britain and Ireland, until it ceased touring in 1963. The Company was disbanded by former Osiris performer Wynne Griffiths after Hewins' death in 1978.

'We Happy Few' was a play written by Imogen Stubbs, based on Nancy Hewins and the Osiris Players. Starring Juliet Stevenson, Patsy Palmer and Kate O'Mara and directed by Trevor Nunn, it played at the Gielgud Theatre in June 2004.
ArrangementThe collection is uncatalogued and so remains in the form of the original accessions.
Related MaterialV&A Theatre and Performance Collections hold Osiris Players and Nancy Hewins materials: Ref no: GB 71 THM/302
Extent7 boxes
LevelCollection
Add to My Items

    ​Recently catalogued collections​

    ​A list of some of our recently catalogued collections​.