History - Red Ladder Theatre Company

Red Ladder Theatre Company


Image by Tim Smith


A radical theatre company with over 50 years of history behind it, Red Ladder aims to make provocative theatre that contributes to social change and global justice.

The Agitprop Street Players – as Red Ladder was originally known – emerged when a group from a socialist information service performed a play at the Trafalgar Square Festival of 1968.

The plays were short and biting, morale-boosting sketches often relying on striking visual images to get the message across, they were highly portable relying on few props and were performed at mass political demonstrations, tenants association meetings, weekend schools etc.

Gradually the basis of the work broadened and plays that fed directly into particular struggles and issues developed; such as ‘The Big Con’ against the Industrial Relations Act and ‘The Cake Play’ against productivity bargaining,

The 60’s were an era of riots, demonstrations and revolt – economic prosperity served to broaden political debate and theatre wanted to take part in this revolution of ideas. As it was conventional theatre changed little so the ‘alternative’ emerged in the shape of fringe theatre. Red Ladder became a prominent member of the fringe movement, known as one of the best established political theatre companies in Britain.

By 1971, the name Red Ladder evolved, after a much loved and used prop. There also evolved a policy of taking theatre to ‘working class’ audiences in places where working people usually find their entertainment, this now included trade union clubs.

By 1973 the commitment of the company was recognised with an Arts Council grant of £4,000 and in 1976 the company moved from London to Leeds, Yorkshire and is still based in the city, although it continues to tour on a national basis.

Between 1986 and 2006 Red Ladder made work targeting young teenagers and our shows toured youth clubs and local authority community spaces.

Since 2006 the company has returned to theatre studios without losing the links to non-theatre spaces. Our work now tours the UK playing in theatre studios and alongside this we take the same high quality touring shows into community spaces such as working men’s clubs, sports and socials and community halls. Our work tells the stories of struggle and reaches audiences who feel they have no voice on British stages.

Artistic Directors:

Rachel Feldberg (1986 – 1994)
Kully Thiarai (1994 -1998)
Wendy Harris (1998 – 2006)
Rod Dixon (2006 – 2023)

Asian Theatre School:

Red Ladder’s Asian Theatre School was directed by Madani Younis from 2002 – 2007, when it moved to Bradford and was rebranded as the independently run Freedom Studios.

Madani Younis is currently creative director of The South Bank Centre. He left Freedom Studios in 2009 to become artistic director of The Bush. His work at Freedom Studios included the site-specific work, The Mill – City of Dreams. He has also worked nationally and internationally as theatre director, writer and practitioner. Madani staged seven productions for Red Ladder Theatre Company’s Asian Theatre School – Streets of Rage (2002); Silent Cry (2003 – regional, 2004 – national tour); Freeworld (2004 – an international collaboration with the Studio Theatre Damascus, Syria); Caravan (2005 – West Yorkshire Playhouse); Freefalling (2005 – Red Ladder Theatre Company, national tour); A Waiting Room for Journeying Souls (2005 – Peepul Centre, Leicester), and Doors (2007- Red Ladder Theatre Company, national tour).

For information on past shows, including dates, credits, images and video content please visit Past Shows.

For an overview of the company’s history to the present day please view the following documents:

Changing Shapes of Red Ladder – 1968 – 2006

Changing Shapes of Red Ladder, Rod Dixon’s Tenure: 2006 – 2023

You can also request to access the Red Ladder Theatre Company Archive Collection at Leeds University by following the instructions here.

STUDENT RESEARCHERS! For an insight into the Red Ladder approach to rehearsing and making theatre please view the following document: Rehearsal