Clubs and societies: the dramatic societies

August 2012

'Dadie' Rylands as the Duchess of Malfi, 1924 (GHWR/5/87)

'Dadie' Rylands as the Duchess of Malfi, 1924 (GHWR/5/87)
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Cambridge University is famous for excellence in drama, not least because of modern celebrities who were once members of the Footlights. But the University has a much longer dramatic tradition, in which Kingsmen often played a key role and the archives at King’s College are a rich source of documentation for student drama groups.

Amateur Dramatic Company (ADC)

The Amateur Dramatic Company was founded in 1855. ADC papers at King’s include a menu for their Agamemnon dinner on 27 November 1900, signed by attendees including the Kingsmen Walter Durnford (KC 1865; Provost) and Montague Rhodes James (KC 1882; classicist, Provost and writer of ghost stories).

The Marlowe Society

The Marlowe Society was founded in 1907. Many of their plays were directed by Kingsmen, including Rupert Brooke (KC 1906, poet), Frank Birch (KC 1909, cryptographer), Donald Beves (KC 1909, Vice Provost), John Tresidder Sheppard (KC 1900; Provost) and George Humphrey Wolferstan ‘Dadie’ Rylands (KC 1921, Shakespeare scholar).

The latter was by far the most prolific, directing performances between 1929 and the 1960s. He was invited to come up to King’s in 1921 by Provost J.T. Sheppard and after changing subject from classics to English he became a student of FL Lucas. In 1929, Rylands directed the Marlowe Society’s performance of King Lear.

Greek plays

The University has a Greek play tradition dating back to 1882. These were performed in their original language and were independent of either the ADC or the Marlowe Society. JK Stephen (KC 1878: poet and tutor to Edward, Prince of Wales, Duke of Clarence) took the starring role in their first performance, Sophocles’ Ajax.

Their second play was Aristophanes’ The Birds, staged in 1883 and reported to be the first full performance of any comedy by Aristophanes since antiquity. Our archive includes twelve etchings by Robert Farren, depicting scenes from that play, with titles in Greek.

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Useful Sources

  • The Marlowe Society
  • Wilkinson, L.P. (1983) 'A Hundred Years of The Cambridge Greek Play' (LPW/3/15)
  • The Amateur Dramatic Company (ADC) on Janus (Cambridge University's online catalogue)
  • Greek Plays on Janus
  • The Marlowe Society on Janus
  • The Papers of George Humphrey Wolferstan Rylands on Janus


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