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History of Performance

Records of Early English Drama North-East (REED-NE)

REED-NE is part of a massive international project to assemble a complete record of surviving sources for medieval and early modern performance in Britain. REED volumes are to scholars in literature and theatre what Pevsner is to architects and art historians. REED's main office at the University of Toronto coordinates a team of researchers who trawl Britain's archives by region and edit their findings to an internationally recognized scholarly standard. The volumes which have already appeared have revolutionized our understanding of British performance history. REED has redressed the London-centric imbalance of research obsessed with Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and drawn attention to the rich variety of performance in regions which have often been, unjustly, seen as ‘marginal’. Our project will result in reference books for drama, music, and religious and economic history, and for performers of early repertoire. It will also have a significant cultural value for the modern North-East. 

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The North-East

England’s North-East had a vibrant culture of music, popular traditions, professional theatre, dance, and ceremonial; yet it has remained surprisingly uncharted territory. We will study and edit all records pertaining to drama, music and ceremonial, from the earliest sources (around 9th century) to 1642. We will cover mystery plays; royal progresses; performance locations such as market places, graveyards and churches; professional and amateur performance in noble and gentry households; folk drama and processions. To date, discoveries include:

  • Child drama and misrule ceremonies, featuring so-called ‘Boy Bishops’
  • A major biblical play (Hull’s Noah)
  • An important body of information concerning illegal recusant drama in North Yorkshire. This will transform the historical understanding of the polemic use of drama by Catholics in provincial England.

Findings will be linked to an interactive map of provincial England on the REED Patrons and Performances website at Toronto. Our GIS mapping will offer a new perspective on historical performance in England and contribute to the advancement of the Spatial Humanities.

Public Events: Summer Festival, Durham, 7-12 July 2016

In collaboration with the Société internationale pour l’étude du théâtre médiéval, we showcased our research with a conference, an exhibition, and performances of medieval and Renaissance repertoire. For the first time since the 9th century, the Lindisfarne Harrowing of Hell – probably Britain’s oldest surviving drama – was performed.



REED-NE has been funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council for five years (£785k net).

At Durham, the project is based in English Studies and supported by IMEMS. We also collaborate with the World Heritage Site and Durham Cathedral.


Project Members at Durham

Principal Investigator: Prof. emer. John McKinnell, Trustee of the Georgian Theatre Royal at Richmond, North Yorkshire

Co-Investigator: Prof. Barbara Ravelhofer

Researchers: Dr Diana Wyatt and Dr Mark Chambers

PhD students: Gasper Jakovac and James Beckett

Other project members are based in Canada and the USA.

Read our PDF on the History of Performance for more information.