The Northcott is the seventh building in Exeter to be used as a theatre.
In 1962, the Theatre Royal, Exeter was demolished to be replaced by an office block; however there were many people in Exeter who were determined that the city should not be without a theatre for very long. Early in 1962 Mr G V Northcott had started negotiations with the Board of Directors of the Theatre Royal with the view to "saving" the theatre, and its re-creation as a theatre and arts centre. A small group from the University of Exeter prepared a memorandum explaining how they saw the Theatre Royal functioning in the kind of way that Mr Northcott visualised and outlining some ideas. They submitted this memorandum to the Board of Directors of the Theatre Royal and to Mr Northcott. After some time, however, negotiations failed to develop and the Theatre Royal was sold.
For a time, informal discussions continued between Mr Northcott and the University, and later in 1962 more formal contacts were made. The then Vice-Chancellor pointed out that the University had for some time earmarked a site for a theatre on its Development Plan and it was possible that, in collaboration with the University, Mr Northcott's ideas for a theatre and arts centre could be realised.
Ultimately, the University offered a site: Mr Northcott established a trust with a benefaction of £100,000 (later supplemented by a generous gift of £50,000 from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and by other bodies), to establish the "Northcott Devon Theatre and Arts Centre", which would serve the needs of the community in the region. The Northcott Theatre opened with a production of The Merchant of Venice, starring Tony Church, its first Artistic Director, on 2 November 1967. Barbara Hepworth unveiled one of her sculptures in the foyer on opening night. The architects were Sir William Holford and Partners and the theatre consultant Michael Warre.
Actors who spent time in the Northcott company in their earlier careers include Polly James, Lesley Joseph, John Nettles, Robert Lindsay, Brian Protheroe, Bob Peck, Geraldine James, Celia Imrie and Imelda Staunton. In its first years, the company originated a number of plays of West Country interest, including new historical drama by Jack Emery and an adaptation of the Cornish Passion Play. It also toured productions throughout the area.The Northcott theatre opened in 1967 with Tony Church the first director and was more or less a two week provincial theatre with conservative audiences, plays that would not shock or create controversy, a lot of productions were from outside the region and the theatre was equiped to only cater for lighting and minimum stage set production. Jane Howell came there with the proviso that she wished to create a permanent staff with actors and design team and with this in mind she set about getting Hayden Griffen, designer, to find and create a theatre the equal of the National and the Royal Court, the main problem with this was the lack of funds and thereby the expectation on the staff to work long hours of high creativity for very little money, Jane's other concern was that we were all equal and could not use any qualifications in any publicity that the theatre produced.
When it became clear that Jane Howell did not wish to continue at the Northcott theatre most of the design staff at the theatre also wished to leave, this was true of myself and Jacky. The time at the Northcott was a time of good creativity and good quality productions, Edward Bond, Lindsey Anderson , Bill Gaskill, John Gielgud, Tim Piggot-Smith, Brian Capron, Zoe Wanamaker,Bob Hoskins, Samuel Becket, Howard Brenton and many many more names now famous in theatre and films.
- 1971 - 14 April - First production by Artistic Director Jane Howell
- 1971 - 14 April - Narrow Road to the Deep North by Edward Bond
- 1971 - 19 May - The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertholt Brecht
- 1971 - 16 June - The Fair Maid of the West by Thomas Heywood
- 1971 - 25 August - Private Lives by Noel Coward
- 1971 - 29 September - Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
- 1971 - 27 October - Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
- 1971 - 15 December - Guys & Dolls by Loesser, Swerling & Burrows
- 1971 - 22 December - Happy Families
- 1972 - 8 February - The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
- 1972 - 15 May - The Cornish Passion Play by Anon
- 1972 - 19 April - Galileo by Bertholt Brecht
- 1972 - 8 May - Stop Thief improvised by company
- 1972 - 17 May - The Alchemist by Ben Jonson
- 1972 - 22 May - Pollution (Studio)
- 1972 - 29 May - The School for Wives by Molière
- 1972 - 14 June - Giants at Play devised by company
- 1972 - 16 August - A Flea in her Ear by Feydeau
- 1972 - 20 September - Measure for Measure by Howard Brenton
- 1972 - 25 October - Happy as a Sandbag by Ken Lee
- 1972 - 13 December - Old Time Music Hall by Various
- 1972 - 20 December - John Willy and the Bee People by Alan Cullen
- 1973 - 7 February - The Hostage by Brendan Behan
- 1973 - 20 March - The Mystery Coach Trip Explained by Roger Booth
- 1973 - 10 April - Loot by Joe Orton
- 1973 - 2 May - The Tempest by William Shakespeare
- 1973 - 30 May - Mrs Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw
- 1973 - 13 June - The Pope's Wedding by Edward Bond
- 1973 - 14 August - The Cornish Mystery Cycle - The Creation by Anon
- 1973 - 12 September - Judge Jeffreys by Jack Emery
- 1973 - 2 October - The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
- 1973 - 10 October - Armstrong's Last Goodnight by John Arden
- 1973 - 14 November - Bingo by Edward Bond
- 1973 - 12 December - The Owl & The Pussycat Went To See by Shiela Ruskin & David Wood
- 1973 - 19 December - Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter
- 1974 - 30 January - Hay Fever by Noel Coward