Edward Gordon Craig exhibition at Smallhythe Place

Ellen Terry and her only son Edward Gordon Craig

Upstairs in the Lyceum Room at Smallhythe Place is a new exhibition about Ellen Terry’s only son, Edward Gordon Craig. The exhibition displays a number of his early drawings that first indicated the vibrant career he would later have, as well as an extract from his book on an actor’s role in performance.

Like his mother, Edward was a theatrical giant of his time, travelling round the world with his contemporaries and performing some of literature’s most heralded roles, including Hamlet in 1894. He was also a director, set designer and writer.

Craig was one of two children Ellen Terry had with the great love of her life, architect William Godwin, to whom she was never married. Like Ellen, Edward also had a colourful love life. He married May Gibson in 1893, with whom he had four children, yet fathered nine more children with seven different mothers.

Craig was undyingly committed to his craft. His set designs were underpinned by his own theatrical theory, where he believed the focus should be on the actors and the light rather than on their on-stage environment, meaning that his sets were kept simplistic. His theory was explored not only on stage, but also in the articles and essays he wrote. ‘The Art of the Theatre’ and ‘Towards a New Theatre’ are two of his best-known works, and establish some of his most poignant concepts, such as the idea that an actor is an ‘uber-marionette’ i.e. the artist is in “control of every aspect of stage production”. He later established the School for the Art of the Theatre in 1903.

Edward Gordon Craig as Hamlet in 1894 in Moscow
EGC as Hamlet in 1894
Edward Gordon Craig as Hamlet in 1894 in Moscow

Unfortunately, by the end of World War I the school was closed, which led Edward to write more and more about theatrical history and venture round the world with a series of incredibly well-received productions. He had already established himself as one of the most influential figures in 20th century theatre but continued to theorise and write well into his twilight years until he died in 1966 at the age of 94.

The exhibition at Smallhythe Place will be on display until the house closes at the end of October. There are also free weekly talks on Wednesdays at 12pm exploring different aspects of Craig’s mother, Ellen Terry’s life. If you would like to book a group visit to the house to see the exhibition and the rest of the collection or attend a talk, please call 01580762334. The house is open to the public Wednesday – Sunday and bank holidays 11am-5pm. 

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