Typographic artist Alan Kitching has created a triptych work, outlining the history of performances at City Hall and Hall for Cornwall. Read on to find out how the commission came about and why this new work has such an important link to the heritage of City Hall.
The Performance Timeline started with a realisation. Looking through photos from Hall for Cornwall’s heritage collection, one printing company stood out. In the 1950s and 1960s, G & M Organ Theatrical Printers ran a busy printing company in Wrington, just outside of Bristol. The company printed handbills, posters and programmes for theatres all over the country and this included City Hall’s programme of events.
In the mid-1990s, Alan Kitching and his late wife Celia Stothard bought the entire collection of wooden and metal type when G & M Organ retired their business. The collection was painstakingly catalogued and brought back to Alan’s London studio in its entirety.
Alan Kitching printing in his London studio using type from the Wrington Press.
This direct connection to the history of performance in Truro was made all the more tangible by the fact that the same wooden type used to create City Hall’s posters in the mid-20th Century could once again appear on the walls of City Hall’s theatre in 2022.
‘When Celia Stothard and I bought the Wrington woodblock printing type from the theatrical poster printers J & M Organ in Somerset in 1996, I never would have thought they would be used for such an apposite project as the Truro City Hall theatre murals.
‘I always had in mind the heritage of this collection of woodblock printing types whilst I was working on the murals.’
A history of performance
The work was commissioned in March 2020 and was created during the winter and spring of 2021. Over two hundred performances were selected from the thousands that have appeared on stage between 1912 – 2018 as the theatre closed for its transformation.
The timeline is a snapshot of the performances that have taken place in the building. The performances cover the period in which the building was known variously as the Regent Theatre, Regent Cinema, City Hall and then Hall for Cornwall post-1997.
An early performance programme, from a Truro Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society production of Trial By Jury and Pirates of Penzance, 1931 at The County Theatre
Performances were researched by Exeter University postgraduate placement student Orla Padwick. These performances were narrowed down from thousands to just two hundred to illustrate the range of different performances which have taken place. Opera, dance, drama, comedy, film, spoken word and musical theatre are all represented by a range of touring and homegrown acts.
Each performance uses a different wooden type from Alan’s collection. We challenge regular visitors to Hall for Cornwall to NOT find a performance that they remember attending!
Each performance was set by Alan in his London studio. These were set, inked up and printed individually using a colour palette seen in our posters from the 1950s.
A composition photo, taken during the printing of Panel 1 detailing the earliest performances in the timeline.
The different performances were then overlayed digitally by Alan’s assistant Jo to form a creative, non-linear timeline. The layout references the myriad posters pasted up and overlayed backstage at the hall between the 1950s- 1990s.
Decades-worth of pasted and overlaid photos found backstage at City Hall in 1995, prior to renovation and opening as Hall for Cornwall.
Each performance sits on top of the last as an individual poster, with details partially obscured as more posters are added. Motifs, serifs, border pieces and different scales are employed throughout.
The type used to print each performance reflects the character, drama and humour in the different types of performance. Carmen appears in the colour of the Spanish flag, each letter appearing to move as a flamenco dancer while the gothic drama of the Rocky Horror Show
Viewing the timeline
The Performance Timeline is sited within the Green Room Café at Hall for Cornwall, Truro. The work is free to view during the theatre’s opening hours. The timeline can be read chronologically from left to right in its entirety from 1912 to 2018. It can also be viewed as separate panels.
Alan Kitching and his studio team visited Cornwall in February 2022 to celebrate the Performance Timeline. Hall for Cornwall hosted an In Conversation event at Hall for Cornwall, and associated lectures and workshops took place at Falmouth University and CAST.
Alan Kitching during the In Conversation event, 4th February 2022. Photo Sean Hurlock
Alan Kitching is an internationally renowned letterpress typographer and a master printmaker. With over 60 years of experience in creative wooden and metal letterpress, Kitching runs The Typography Workshop in Kennington, London offering specialised courses and limited edition prints.
Kitching’s clients include The Guardian, BBC, English Heritage, Transport for London, Royal Mail, National Theatre, Royal College of Art, Kew Gardens, Saatchi & Saatchi, Tate, Clarks and D&AD among many others.
Kitching is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art and a Visiting Professor at the University Of The Arts, London.
Alan in his studio printing the Performance Timeline.
Revealing City Hall
The Performance Timeline has been commissioned as part of Hall for Cornwall’s project ‘Revealing City Hall’ made possible through an award from the National Lottery Heritage Project. The project examines the different uses of the building and its role in Truro, Cornwall throughout its history. Explore our heritage website for stories, films, a podcast series and a VR heritage tour.
The building in which Hall for Cornwall theatre sits has had many lives. City Hall has entertained Truro for over 170 years in amongst its uses as a market, jail, police station, fire station, court and ice skating rink.
In Conversation with Alan Kitching, 4th February 2022. Photo Sean Hurlock