The Company

Banner Theatre offers stirring insights and sharp commentaries on the salient issues of our times. It is an engaged, living theatre whose productions merge song, video and documentary, continually developed by the creative team as events unfold.

Founded in 1974, Banner Theatre creates powerful, innovative, issue-based multimedia theatre productions, which tour to community and trade union audiences, predominantly in non-theatre/non-arts venues, typically reaching over 10,000 people annually.

We have a successful track record of developing collaborative documentary theatre, combining video interviews and original live music and song with theatre, film and animation, in a form we call the ‘video-ballad’, which stages the real-life experiences of disadvantaged groups and communities in struggle.

What makes the company unique is, first and foremost, its use of ‘actuality’ – ordinary people’s words captured by camera, that constitute the source material of all our shows.

Another essential core element of our work is the use of ‘popular education’ techniques (pioneered by Paulo Freire in the 1960s), which informs both the processes in which we engage in the creation of new productions, and also in the workshops and discussions that we provide as part of our educational strategy. [1]

Finally, Banner is one of very few theatre companies prioritising working-class audiences and working with trade unions. Our aim is to support the struggles of the working class and increase awareness of, and generate action around, key social and political issues and trends.

Over the past 40 years, Banner has been, and remains, a key cultural force within the UK working class movement. This is exemplified by Singing the Changes, a book of Banner’s songs, accompanied by images and verbatim speech, which celebrates working class struggle in the UK from the 1970s onwards. Singing the Changes was financed by the then CYWU union, now part of Unite the Union.

The Banner Archive at the Library of Birmingham

The immense body of raw ‘actuality’ material gathered by Banner since the mid-1970s is an unparalleled oral record of working class life and struggles. It has also consistently reflected Britain’s diverse communities, particularly Black and South Asian people, and asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. Banner projects, such as the Handsworth Project in the 1980s, have paid particular attention to the areas of the city where these communities have settled.

The importance of this material to the wider community has been acknowledged by the fact that the Library of Birmingham (Archives, Heritage and Photography) has accepted Banner’s records from their first three decades, and invested in the process of cataloguing these holdings and beginning to digitise the oral records.

(Banner Theatre’s Archive Reference Number: MS 1611)

For more information on Banner’s methodology, influences, aesthetics and impact, see the History section.

[1] Popular education is a term that reflects a number of different forms of adult education which tend to be associated with social movement and campaigns. The particular methodology which Banner is working with stems directly from Paulo Freire’s radical pedagogy. Known as the spiral model, it aims to conscientise participants, enabling them to become more aware of how individual personal experiences connect to larger societal problems. The process begins with people’s experiences, which become the core of the spiral, and then grows continually outward from the core in a series of steps which are modelled on the Freirean praxis: analysis, action, reflection.