Our mission began with the intangible heritage of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site and its environs - its music, ceremonies and dramatic activities. Together with artists and local communities, we have brought traditions back to life, regularly staging gems from the North-East’s performance heritage.
As our global network continues to grow, we shall further our understanding of performance history throughout the medieval and early modern worlds.
The History of Performance strand is interested in any form of performance - theatre, ceremony, music and dance - before 1800, wherever it occurs. Naturally, being based in Durham and surrounded by the rich heritage of the North East, this has become a focal point for much of our research and our story so far but the stage is now set for global exploration and collaboration...
The Strand began with Records of Early English Drama North-East (REED-NE), part of a massive international project to assemble a complete record of surviving sources for medieval and early modern performance in Britain.
Since then, revivals of civic and religious music and drama have continued to take place in Durham’s historic centre. With an interdisciplinary collaborators from departments including Music, Modern Languages, History, Archaeology and English, as well as students, and local volunteers, we regularly stage gems from the North-East’s performance heritage: liturgy for medieval boy bishops, polyphony from Durham Cathedral’s collections, and popular songs such as the Lyke Wake Dirge and the Ballad of the Lambton Worm.
At the Being Human Festival, we presented metrical psalms, as the Scottish soldiers whose graves have now been found at Palace Green, would have sung them on their way down to Durham in 1650. We have also given talks about the Danse Macabre tradition in performance and the visual arts at Hexham, as well as the Universities of Leipzig and Oxford.
More History of Performance Videos
Records of Early English Drama-North East: Uncovering performance and musical heritage
The Records of Early English Drama-North East project team tells us what they discovered about the earliest records of performance and musical heritage in North East England.
Dr Daniel Blank on Shakespeare and Student Theatre
Dr Daniel Blank tells us about the influence that student theatre had on Shakespeare’s work, and the enduring influence of his plays for current students. The video features Durham University Classical Theatre and their production of Twelfth Night.
Souls of the North Performance
Souls of the North presents now-neglected traditions from the North of England and Scotland that imagine or challenge death, celebrate the dead. These were once popular throughout the region before the advent of modern and commercialised Halloween.
The Sacred and the Profane
This production presented, among other things, scenes from a Renaissance court, a Dance formed of Death, and a torchlit procession of the traditional Boy Bishops of Durham.