22 May 2019 / Events

The Wickham Lecture 2019: Professor Mary Luckhurst

The annual Wickham Lecture, named after the first Professor of Theatre in Britain, Glynne Wickham, is co-organised by the University of Bristol Theatre Department and the Society for Theatre Research.

Entry is free but you must register via the EventBrite website here

Please do not book here on the Society for Theatre Research website.


Celebrity Actors & Actresses on Playing Real People


Professor Mary Luckhurst, (University of Bristol, UK)

Doors open at 6pm to start at 6:20pm, with the lecture followed by a Q&A and drinks reception

In recent years the playing of a real person has become a significant measure of esteem, akin to the stature of a Shakespearean role. BAFTAs and Oscars frequently go the actors who have played real-life monarchs, scientists, politicians, activists, writers and artists. The contemporary market for the consumption of real lives is leading to an ever-increasing demand for actors to play or impersonate real people.

But what are the challenges of playing a real person? How does an actor prepare to play a real person when the theory and practice of performance are grounded in fictional characters? What are the ethical challenges and emotional dilemmas of playing an actual person? How far does an actor need to go in the physical replication of a real person? Why is it a qualitatively different experience for an actor to play a real person, and what are the risks of failure? In this lecture, Professor Luckhurst reflects on leading actors who have played eminent real-life figures, including Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Nicole Kidman and Gary Oldman. How does playing a real-life celebrity impact on a well-known actor’s career? Is this a strategy that works every time? Are the complex stagings of dual celebrity identities and celebrity branding effective strategies in the construction of forging star identity? These are just some of the questions that this fascinating field of inquiry suggests.

Professor Mary Luckhurst is the new Head of the School of Arts at Bristol University. She is a theatre and cultural historian, a director and an actor trainer. She did her BA and PhD at Cambridge University, mentored by John Barton. Mary’s theatre work is highly influenced by Brecht’s political project and by central European aesthetics, and she works alongside filmmakers, musicians and choreographers. Working with Greg Dyke, she co-founded the research-intensive, industry-facing Department of Theatre, Film and TV at the University of York and collaborated with the York Theatre Royal on numerous productions between 1998-2013. She was Research Director at the University of Melbourne for the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music from 2014-2019 and has also taught in conservatoires such as RADA, Central School and NIDA.

Mary’s research mission is to render visible the processes of theatre-making and she has written and edited thirteen books. She wrote the first and only cultural history of the European dramaturg and literary manager. She has consistently highlighted the creative agency of the primary makers of theatre, the actors – who have traditionally been treated as less important than directors and writers. Her latest book on the playwright Caryl Churchill analyses her plays through the interpretations of successive actresses and was declared ‘brilliant’ by Michael Billington. She regularly interviews actors on public platforms and has been referred to as ‘the doyenne of the actor interveiw’. Her latest work focuses on celebrity actresses and their strategies of career management in a still male-dominated industry. Following her book of interviews, Playing for Real, she has a particular interest in actors who play real people and is currently writing a book on this topic.


The lecture will be held at Wickham Theatre, University of Bristol.


22 May 2019


18:20 - 20:30


Wickham Theatre, Bristol, UK