Professor Helen Nicholson

Research interests

I came to Royal Holloway in 2000 from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, where I lectured in drama on the BA and PGCE courses. My research is now focused on contemporary theatre and applied performance, which means that I have worked in many different and sometimes rather unglamorous places – in schools, in care homes for the elderly, in day centres for people with head injuries, in prisons, in hostels for the homeless, in orphanages in Africa. My research raises fundamental questions, relevant to all forms of theatre, about how far innovative theatre and performance practices are compatible with learning, community engagement and civic participation. It investigates the performative pedagogies of theatre-makers who work in the current political climate in which the arts are charged with healing social division, and where the creative industries are a major source of employment and urban regeneration. My book, Theatre, Education and Performance: The Map and the Story was awarded the Distinguished Book Award by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education in 2012, and my edited collection with Anna Harpin, Performance and Participation, was shortlisted for the TaPRA editing prize in 2018.                      

 My research into theatre in non-metropolitan spaces and community performance has led to an interest in amateur theatre. This research, undertake collaboratately with Professor Nadine Holdsworth (Warwick) and Professor Jane Milling (Exeter), was funded under the AHRC Connected Communities Scheme. It investigates the social and cultural significance of amateur  theatre as a craft, as creative practice, as entertainment and as heritage. Further information can be found on our website:, and our new book, The Ecologies of Amateur Theatre (Palgrave, 2018)

I have also led research projects on arts practices in residential care homes for older adults, many of whom live with dementia. I am interested in the contribution made by artists to the emotional geographies of older adults, and what 'home' means to those living in residential care.

I was co-editor of the leading international journal in applied theatre and drama education, RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, published by Routledge ( from 2004-2018, and serve on the international board of the journal  Applied Theatre Research.

My interest in the role of the university in contributing to social justice informs my work as Vice Principal for Research Impact and Interdisciplinarity, where I am encouraging partnerships within and beyond the academy. I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy,  Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Associate Fellow of Homerton College, University of Cambridge and Visiting Professor at the University of Stockholm. 


I continue to enjoy teaching at all levels, and I have introduced many new courses into the undergraduate curriculum that are associated with my research interests. These include courses in theatre for young audiences, theatre education, performance of memory, contemporary theatre-making and devised theatre. Many of these courses involve placements in different settings. I introduced applied theatre to the MA in Theatre, a course which has contributed to the careers of many successful practitioners and theatre educators.

My recent PhD students have researched different aspects of applied theatre and contemporary performance. I welcome inquires from potential PhD students in my research areas.

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