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Sydney Musgrove papers on Auckland theatre activities.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-2013/07

Scope and Contents

This collection contains materials relating to Auckland's amateur theatre scene between 1947 and 1982 collected by Professor Sydney Musgrove including souvenir programmes, photographs, newspaper clippings, producer's notebooks, wardrobe notebooks and posters. The bulk of the collection comprises ephemera from University of Auckland's theatre societies but also includes material from productions by the Auckland Drama Council, Auckland Repertory Theatre, and Theatre Guild (NZ) Ltd. There are also materials relating to productions staged outside New Zealand by the New England University College Drama Society (Australia) and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (England). Other materials relate to Musgrove's involvement in Auckland's literary and music scene.

The collection focuses on the activities of Sydney Musgrove within the Auckland amateur theatre scene and reveals a rich history of amateur performance in Auckland. The collection highlights the aspiration for a professional theatre company of high standards despite monetary restraints. More specifically, it offers insight into Musgrove's vision as a producer and demonstrates the involvement of members of the wider Auckland art scene in the creation of these productions. The newspaper clippings reflect this aspect and provide reviews of the productions.

The collection has been divided into three series organised chronologically. This arrangement reveals the variety of the plays performed by dramatic societies in Auckland during the period covered by the collection. There is a mixture of classic and contemporary plays but with a focus on works set between the 13th and 15th Centuries.

Aside from being useful resources for the study of the Auckland theatre, the souvenir programmes highlight the typographical endeavours of Bob Lowry (1912-1963). A skilled printer, publisher and typographer with extensive knowledge of typography, Lowry was active between the 1940s and 1960s. He founded and primarily worked under Pelorus Press and Pilgrim Press but his name is associated with other presses. Lowry published works by figures in Auckland art and literary scene. The programmes in this collection illustrate his typographical talents and eye for detail.

The collection includes photography by prolific Auckland photographer and graphic designer, Clifton Firth (1904-1980). Firth was highly active between the 1930s and 1970s. He set up a photographic studio in Queen Street after graduating from Elam School of Art and photographed well-known Auckland identities. His photographs of Auckland's amateur theatre productions adopt his trademark style of dramatic lighting using black-and-white photography to recall an age of Hollywood theatrical glamour. Auckland Libraries holds an extensive collection with over 5,000 of his negatives.

The designs and costume work of Elam graduate Russell Craig are also represented in the series relating to the Outdoor Summer Shakespeare. Craig moved to England but continued his career in theatre design undertaking work for the Scottish Opera and the Royal Shakespeare Company.


  • 1946 - 1982


Conditions Governing Access

Not restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Gloves must be worn when handling the photographic materials.

Biographical note

Sydney Musgrove (1914-1987) was born in Derbyshire, England and graduated from Merton College, Oxford with a Doctorate of Philosophy before immigrating to New Zealand in 1947 with his wife, Marjorie Musgrove.

From 1947 until 1980 he lectured and headed the English department at the University of Auckland. During his time at the University, Musgrove served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor to Kenneth Maidment from 1964-1970. Musgrove also produced and acted in a significant number of Auckland's amateur theatre productions between 1947 and 1982 and started the University Theatre Workshop's tradition of Outdoor Summer Shakespeare in 1963.

He was a poet, public orator and classical scholar with expertise in William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson studies. An active figure in the Devonport community where he lived for many years, he wrote a popular history of the suburb.

He died in 1987 and was survived by his wife, Marjorie and daughter and New Zealand historian, the late Judith Binney.


1 metres (2 boxes, outsize box and poster folder.)

Language of Materials



Collection includes records relating to Professor Musgrove's activities in Auckland theatre productions, especially those of the University of Auckland theatre groups: Auckland University Drama Society, Auckland University Theatre Company, University Theatre Workshop; a smaller amount of material relates to Theatre Guild (NZ) Ltd, Auckland Drama Council, and Auckland Repertory Theatre. The records include production notes, costume notes, annotated programmes, correspondence, clippings of reviews, posters, and photographs of productions.


Organised into three series: Series 1. Materials related to Auckland amateur theatre productions; Series 2. Materials related to the Outdoor Summer Shakespeare productions; Series 3. Miscellaneous Materials. Each series is arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Marjorie Musgrove in March 2005.

Related Materials

Auckland University College Dramatic Club minute book. 1928-1945. MSS & Archives E-22; Theatre Workshop (University of Auckland) records. c.1996-2001. MSS & Archives 2008/11


  • "Clifton Firth." Auckland Council. Accessed 17 October, 2013.
  • Dobson, Michael. Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • "GENERAL SURVEY."An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966.Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 22-Apr-09.URL:
  • Grafton Shakespeare and Dramatic Club. The Prompt / Grafton Shakespeare and Dramatic Club Vol. 1, no. 9, 10, 12 (1939); v. 2, no. 13 (1940)-v. 21, no. 86 (1960). Auckland, N.Z. : F.C. Webster.
  • Halstead, William Perdue. Stage Management for the Amateur Theatre. London: G. Harrap & Co. Ltd, 1938.
  • Harcourt, Peter. A Dramatic Appearance: New Zealand Theatre 1920-1970. Wellington: Methuen, 1978.
  • Hughes, Peter H. "Bob Lowry and the Pelorus Press, 1945-531." A Book in the Hand: Essays on the History of the Book. Edited by Penelope Griffith, Peter H. Hughes and Alan Loney. Wellington: Auckland University Press, 2000.
  • Jackson, Mac. "A Theatrical Scholar: Sydney Musgrove." Fairburn and Friends. 258-264. Edited by Dinah Holman and Christine Cole Catley. Devonport, N.Z.: Cape Catley, 2004.
  • Melvill, Harald. Historic Costumes for the Amateur Theatre and How to Make it. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1961.
  • Musgrove, Sydney. Shakespeare and Jonson: The MacMillan Brown lectures 1957. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1957.
  • Musgrove, S. Shapes on Air. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1989.
  • Sinclair, Keith. A History of the University of Auckland 1883-1983. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press; Oxford University Press. 1983.
  • Southern, Richard. Stage Setting for Amateurs and Professionals. London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1937.
  • Tarling, Nicholas. Wit, Eloquence and Commerce: A history of Auckland's Mercury Theatre. Auckland: Connacht Books, 2007.
  • "Topic: Frank Hofmann Photographs." Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Accessed 17 October, 2013.
Inventory of the Sydney Musgrove papers on Auckland theatre activities, 1946-1982.
Chelsea Renshaw
October 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, University of Auckland Repository

5 Alfred Street
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 New Zealand