Polka40 Blog: Exploring the Archives

June 20, 2019

Welcome back to our Polka40 blog, a series offering unique insight into the process behind the creation of our magical family exhibition at Morden Hall Park. Written by Polka40 volunteer, Sarah Campbell. 


On 16th July 2019 a very special exhibition will open at Morden Hall Park showcasing the fascinating history of Polka Theatre in an immersive, interactive display for all the family. We took the first step towards creating this unique exhibition back in March, when a group of Polka40 volunteers travelled to Polka’s substantial archive to explore the many documents, photographs and recordings that represent Polka’s history.

The Polka archive is housed at the University of Worcester, where it is overseen by Research Librarian and Repository Manager Roger Fairman. It comprises over 4000 photographs, 200 scripts and prompts, 350 posters and flyers, 150 programmes, recordings of performances, minutes of company meetings, artistic notes, correspondence, building plans, set designs, sketches and press cuttings.

On our first visit to Worcester, Archive Researcher for the Polka40 project Jennifer Dumbelton guided us through the archive and gave invaluable advice on how to handle the various resources. Our research brief was to hunt out the perfect materials for the exhibition, but an additional goal of the Polka40 project is to more thoroughly catalogue and preserve the Polka archive so that these fascinating materials are more easily accessible to scholars and the wider public. It is vital that these collections are better preserved, understood and shared with future generations.

‘It has been an honour to be involved in the preservation of these historical artefacts and records…’

The volunteer team undertook a further visit to Worcester in March. The archive turned out to be a veritable treasure trove and our visits unearthed some exciting objects from Polka’s history of pioneering productions. Five of my personal favourite discoveries were:

  • Brochures from Polka’s very first season (1979/80)
  • Nametags and ration books from ‘Rosie Blitz’ (1988), one of Polka’s most memorable productions starring a very young Keeley Hawes!
  • The theatre’s accident books (providing evidence of the many dangers of working in live theatre!)
  • Show reports, detailing the progress of a single production over its entire run, a fascinating insight into the life of the theatre’s cast and crew
  • Invitations to Winnie the Pooh’s 60th birthday party (in 1986)!

Polka has always worked very closely with schools and the archive contains records of extensive educational work with children of all abilities, together with feedback received from those attending workshops and performances. It was a delight to read these first-hand responses to Polka’s innovative and important work.

Polka Theatre’s archive is a valuable record of the history of this unique theatre and its significant contribution to children’s theatre over the last 40 years. For the volunteers engaged in this project, it has been an honour to be involved in the preservation of these historical artefacts and records, which are of local and national significance.

The memories, objects and stories that feature in the resulting exhibition will represent Polka’s heritage in a way that we hope you will find engaging. We can’t wait to share them with you!

Sarah Campbell



Feeling inspired? Make sure you check out our amazing workshops at Morden Hall Park this summer – there’s something for everyone!