stf Theatre | History
page-template-default,page,page-id-16479,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-theme-ver-10.1.1,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-6.5.0,vc_responsive




The 1st floor of the still partly derelict Tobacco Factory was first used as a theatre by the Show of Strength Company in the autumn of 1998. Seeing their production of A Journey to Bristol by John Hippisley & Sheila Hannon, Andrew Hilton and Diana Favell first conceived their idea of creating a Shakespeare company there.


Empty Factory 1
Alan Coveney and Diana Favell view the unconverted space in 1998

For a brief chronology of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, please see below.

For a more comprehensive history of STF, see Andrew Hilton's personal account of STF's history here.


February: Andrew Hilton and Diana Favell meet George Ferguson, the Tobacco Factory’s architect-owner, for the first time. They book the theatre space for a Shakespeare season in the spring of 2000. Budgets are sketched and Board members sought for an as yet unnamed commercial company. October: a limited company is formed and a business plan launched, with an investment target of £30,000. December sees a shortfall of several thousand pounds, but the Board decides to go ahead with a first season on a lower company wage. Stage Electrics agree to back company with the gift of free lighting hire.

Helen Palmer is appointed Project Administrator for the 2000 Season.


The Shoe Shot

John Mackay, Roland Oliver and Mark Buffery in King Lear. Photo: Alan Moore

January: first rehearsals. The Factory is still in course of redevelopment and our small production team liaises with its Building Site Manager, Steve Smith.  The booking line is a single mobile phone, with no credit card facilities – the audience will pay on arrival. February 9th: King Lear opens with almost no pre-bookings. Six days later the cast of fifteen plays to an audience of only twelve. But on February 17th, The Independent gives half a page to an enthusiastic review by Toby O’Connor Morse. Bookings rocket. By the end of a 5-week run, the mobile phone is turning people away. A Midsummer Night’s Dream attracts Guardian critic, Lyn Gardner, and The Independent’s Paul Taylor. Almost overnight the company is recognised in the theatre world and has earned an audience of almost 8,000.

Briar Monro is appointed Project Administrator for the 2001 Season.



Gyuri Sarossy and Mark Buffery in Coriolanus. Photo: Alan Moore

The second season opens with Measure for Measure, followed by the neglected masterpiece, Coriolanus. Jeremy Kingston of The Times dubs the company ‘one of the most exciting theatre companies in the land.’ The audience rises to 11,500. The Company wins the ‘Up-and-Coming Theatre’ Category in the annual Peter Brook – Empty Space Awards.

Alix Sherman succeeds Briar Monro as Administrator on an ongoing contract.


Hermione & Polixenes

Lisa Kay & Peter Clifford in The Winter’s Tale. Photo: Alan Moore

The third season sees productions of The Winter’s Tale and Twelfth Night.  Audience rises to over 16,000.



Lisa Kay & Joseph Mawle in Troilus & Cressida. Photo: Alan Moore

Troilus & Cressida is the bold choice to open the fourth season, with the more popular As You Like It to follow. London’s Barbican Theatre expresses interest in the company, sees the productions and invites the company to take its 2004 season to the Pit Theatre for a five-week run. At the National Theatre Lucy Black receives a Commendation in the annual Ian Charleson Awards for her performance as Olivia in 2002’s Twelfth Night.


The Changeling, Wyles

Saskia Portway & Matthew Thomas in The Changeling. Photo: Graham Wyles

Macbeth earns mixed reviews in the national press. Middleton & Rowley’s The Changeling fares better in that respect but sees a fall-off in the Bristol audience. Both productions play to sell-out audiences at the Barbican Pit. SATTF begins the long-winded process of redefining itself as a charity with generous pro bono help from TLT Solicitors and Baker Tilly Accountants.


3 Sisters

from Act One of Three Sisters. Photo: Alan Moore

The new, charitable Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory offers the relatively unpopular piece, Pericles, together with its first play from the modern era, Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Both productions are widely praised but the season as a whole sees a fall-off in audience and loses money. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation agrees to substantial financial support for two years.

Sophie Jerrold succeeds Alix Sherman as Administrator (later re-titled General Manager).



Bill Wallis in Titus Andronicus. Photo: Alan Moore

Titus Andronicus plays to only 40% capacity, despite glowing reviews. The company has misjudged its established audience and failed to capture a new one for a brutal but powerful play of topical relevance. Love’s Labour’s Lost fares better but not well enough to save the company from almost immediate closure. A public appeal produces a rapid and overwhelming response; the season can continue and the company plan for 2007.



Jay Villiers & Lucy Black in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo: Graham Burke

Othello and Much Ado About Nothing both sell out. Jonathan Miller agrees to direct for the company in 2008.



Jamie Ballard in Hamlet. Photo: Graham Burke

Both The Taming of the Shrew and Jonathan Miller’s production of Hamlet sell out, with Hamlet extended by a week. Audience total reaches almost 22,000.



Peter Clifford & Leo Wringer in Julius Caesar. Photo: Graham Burke

A ‘Roman Season’ of Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra almost matches the success of 2008, playing to 95%.  The company joins with the Bristol Old Vic to produce Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in the BOV’s Theatre Royal. At the National Theatre Oliver Le Sueur receives a Commendation in the Ian Charleson Awards for his performances of Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew and Laertes in Hamlet in 2008.


Uncle Vanya

Alys Thomas & Simon Armstrong in Uncle Vanya. Photo: Graham Burke



Amy Rockson & Chris Donnelly in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo: Farrows Creative

A ‘magical season’ of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the company’s first ‘revisit’) and The Tempest makes for a fourth sellout year. Uncle Vanya heads the theatrical bill at the 2010 Galway International Arts Festival. A second highly-praised autumn co-production with the Bristol Old Vic in the Theatre Royal – an updated version of Tony Harrison’s brilliant version of Moliere’s The Misanthrope.


National Theatre Wales - The Persians - Aug 2010

Dorothea Myer-Bennett & Simon Armstrong in The MisanthropePhoto: Farrows Creative



John Heffernan in Richard II. Photo: Graham Burke

A season of opposites, Richard II (the company’s first English History play) is followed by The Comedy of Errors, which transfers to the Exeter Northcott for a two-week season.

Morag Massey succeeds Sophie Jerrold as General Manager (later to be re-titled Producer).


Cherry Orchard

Julia Hills, Simon Armstrong & Christopher Bianchi in The Cherry Orchard. Photo: Farrows Creative

The Company’s second production of King Lear, followed by The Cherry Orchard and a number of solo performances by Paul Brendan of the Chekhov ‘short’, On the Evils of Tobacco. Both Chekhovs transfer for a short season to the Kingston Rose. At the National Theatre John Heffernan and Ffion Jolly both receive Ian Charleson Award Commendations for performances in the 2011 season, John for his title role in Richard II, and Ffion for Luciana in The Comedy of Errors. The Company is invited to lodge its archive with the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.


Richard III

John Mackay in Richard III. Photo: Mark Douet

Another season of opposites, Richard III is followed by Two Gentlemen of Verona. The Company’s first full U.K. tour takes the comedy to Lancaster, Scarborough, Cheltenham, Exeter and Winchester.


Arcadia - Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Piers Wehner and Dorothea Myer-Bennett in Arcadia. Photo: Graham Burke

A second production of As You Like It is followed by a first choice from our contemporary repertoire – Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. As You Like It tours to Scarborough, Cheltenham, Truro, Winchester, Exeter and Salisbury. In the autumn, a co-production with the University of Bristol of The Conquering Hero by Allan Monkhouse, plays in the Reception Room in the University’s Wills Memorial Building. The Company receives a nomination for the 2014 Peter Brook – Empty Space Award, for its body of work over fifteen years.



Piers Wehner & Samantha Barron in The Conquering Hero. Photo: Craig Fuller


Romeo & Juliet Craig Fuller

Paapa Essiedu & Daisy Whalley in Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Craig Fuller

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory goes into co-production for the Factory season with its host, Tobacco Factory Theatres. Romeo & Juliet, directed by a guest director, Polina Kalinina, is followed by Andrew Hilton’s production of The School for Scandal. Romeo & Juliet tours to Lancaster, Scarborough, Cheltenham, Winchester, Derby and Salisbury – and also plays to packed houses at the Neuss Shakespeare Festival in Germany. At the National Theatre Daisy May receives a Commendation in the Ian Charleson Awards for her portrayal of Celia in the 2014 production of As You Like It. In the autumn Andrew Hilton directs Brian Friel’s Living Quarters.


Alan Mahon in Hamlet. Photo: Mark Douet

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory again co-produces with its host, Tobacco Factory Theatres. Hamlet is partnered by All’s Well that Ends Wellin a version by Dominic Power. For the first time the company tours both productions around the U.K. And Hamlet is seen at the Craiova Shakespeare Festival in Romania, and All’s Well at the Neuss Festival in Germany. Both productions are  directed by Andrew Hilton.

Norah Lopez Holden & Katy Stephens in OthelloPhoto: The Other Richard


Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory introduced guest director Richard Twyman who directed our acclaimed co-production of Othello which then went on to tour to Exeter Northcott, Wiltons Music Hall, London before our third visit to Neuss Festival, Germany. Andrew Hilton directed his last production as Artistic Director for stfTartuffe was a modern interpretation written by Andrew Hilton and Dominic Power.

Support Us

Support Us

Current Productions

Current Productions