Jamal: Jerico started in the Black Theatre of Brixton under the auspices of an ethnicity. I directed it myself because Rufus Collins who we had there and who we would have relied upon to direct it, started with different things and people getting anxious and wanting to go on stage and so on, and because Rufus was working too many places, I guess, I decided that I gonna take on the directing of the play Jerico after Patrick Patterson who was doing the music saying ‘It’s you that wrote it so you direct it, you are the best man to direct it. (Interviewer: Was he right?) Oh it seems so because we had brilliant reviews man dammit and it was the first time that I am, you know, and they call Jerico a Reggae opera – that wasn’t my phrase. So we had very good reviews, I direct it myself, I bring in the whole street-fighting things in terms of, rather than the artistic things so I was doing real things you know. I mean radical things you know like stick fights and things like that and the dance into poetry and poetry into the dance and music and the question of declaring yourself that all of this, this form, this artistic form is part of the revolution if you like. This is the thing that enlightens people and in other words you have to communicate not the art form but the revolution or evolution if you like through the art form. It’s a weapon, speech – like speech is a weapon, science is a weapon, and that was the declaration for instance of RAPP (Radical Alliance of Poets and Players) that words, music, poetry, songs, movement, dance should be used as a weapon against oppression.
Watermans as a base for HAC
Well Watermans has a history in relationship to us and many other groups in the area…when we…in the sort of height of HAC I suppose, desperately trying to use Waterman’s spaces – we weren’t allowed in. I mean…it was as if…it was really battling the management, that didn’t even want to work with the estates opposite, you know, they didn’t want riff-raff as such in there. Then, that was a pretty classic thing of many venues like that, so for us it was a battle with Watermans. A real battle because they should have been our local venue, supporting us, putting us on. Not just us, other groups and the battle ensued…somebody who how runs something in Wood Green, a big place in Wood Green, and Hardial and various others, I think some councillors as well, they sort of, it sort of took over Watermans to try and make it more open, to really open up the programme, make it more…it felt more like a venue for the communities around, not necessarily community arts, putting on community arts, it would still have professionalism but it wasn’t just this staid…sort of…yes, staid theatrical productions or the type of cinema – to really open it up, which they really resisted, but it did and Hardial ended up working there so that was it really. So not only were we there but people like the Pollars, the dancers. I mean there were all sorts, all sorts of people, a range of people…It’s when their music programme really got exciting – Dollar Brand played there, I mean it, you know…the cinema programme. Yes, so that’s how we became resident there later on.
Rudi: Ritsaert [ten Cate] and his then wife lived there [at the farm] and there were guest rooms and so on. The groups used to stay there –got drunk ! And the big space in the barn could be developed [configured] in any way – could be let’s say be shaped in any way. I mean it could be proscenium type, or could be four sides … whatever – they developed a special sitting module which was you know square sort of chair and then there, well there were trees and some other buildings, another barn I think, and it was very primitive and very almost hippy-like which yeh -although Ritsaert was not a hippy – but I mean there was this youthful energy you know and the theatre in a farm seemed like totally appropriate. It was about 30 minutes from Amsterdam to get there and lots of people went there but of course you had to have a car, it was difficult to get there by bus. I would go home, but we would drink in the bar and then I would go back, drive home drunk – which is what people did in those days! – not any more! The Mickery – what you have to understand is that Ritsaert was a perfect host, he not only showed you theatre but he also wanted you to have a good time and relax and laugh and be with friends, and drink and have fun. So you made a lot of friends there – it was a wonderful place to meet people – it was great … and then after a few years when he saw that it couldn’t go on like this being there, you know, outside in the fields he moved to Amsterdam. At first in an old church then in a theatre on Rozengracht which is still a theatre now and the same thing happened elsewhere but in the same frame of mind.
Ruud: The idea of doing the show about An Die Musik, I mean the idea of doing a show about concentration camp orchestras, that was mine. Then Pip [Simmons] wondered if this could be done – I mean would it be accepted – acceptable . We asked a Dutch theatre critic – an older man who was, you know [was a] very reliable, admired person and who also knew about the whole concentration camp history and the orchestras … ‘Do you think that we can do this or would it be an affront, would it be bad taste, whatever?’ (non-verbal encouragement from the interviewer). But he said ‘No, I think you can do it’. So we embarked on it… the first part of the show came together out of improvisations from the actors, where they would… One was the German, this was Fritz [Friedrich-Karl] Praetorius, the one guy that we took from Bochum [Germany] to Amsterdam and quite non-ironically we gave him the role of the bad German, you know. So he was the man in uniform and he would give them…he would tell them to ‘Play!’ ‘Make music! Tell me a joke’, you know, and would punish them and the punishment would be – of course they wouldn’t beat each other – but it was physically very rough. And the second part of the show was, that was something that Pip totally invented, was the Seder..meal… Pesach evening uh? – with Jewish rituals – ‘The Dream of Anne Frank’ – or ‘The Nightmare of Anne Frank’ really, and that was the second [part]. There I was – apart from doing all those other things a little bit of a dramaturg… Pip knows so well what he is doing that, I – my contribution was not essential – apart from having the idea of doing this. The play was a big success – it was immediately invited for the Nancy Festival in May – 75 and was the hit of the… [t]here in in the festival. I remember people trying to get into the room and trampling each other to death almost – it was quite inappropriate in a… you know, production like that. People were really stampede-ing – cos well in a few days the reputation had grown so much.
Liz: I went out with Dogg’s Troupe in the beginning a lot…
Tony Coult: …which was the street theatre company…
Liz: …the street theatre, yup, and I got the idea that you could go out and make things so I developed a show called Make A Circus, and um got the idea that we could go and collect kids, I’ve got tons of photographs and slides of that, we could go and collect kids and bring them back to a certain point, and spend the day making a circus which was a great success, it was absolutely marvellous. I often look back and I think, if you went out into an estate, you know eight adults today, and collected children you’d be in jail within five minutes, right, I mean [laughs] literally, so I mean those were the days, you know I must say, nobody ever thought, you know, it was just, and we would collect children, we would go at sort of ten in the morning, collect children, tell them when they went home for lunch to tell their mothers that they were going to be in a circus in the afternoon and invite everyone to come and see the circus. So these children broke down into smaller groups, used – well my plan, my dream, was that we would run round the neighbourhood and collect stuff, you know, from skips, or goodness knows, which didn’t really work because some neighbourhoods were pretty clean, you see, then we had nothing to work with. So we, in the end we had to take stuff in a van with us, and I remember – I got these folders ready for you, before, you know, the other day, and I was looking at a few photographs – and I remembered one. I looked at one, I think when it was the building, the old factory building, on Talacre Road, you’re right, yes and upstairs I think, from the Inter-Action offices, was a brassiere factory. So I was desperate one day and I walked up there and I looked and there were all these bra straps, tied up, you know [laughs] like fringe kind of things, straps you know, and I was desperate, so I threw them in a bag and took them. And the other day I looked at photographs of children you know dressed up [laughs] in these bra straps, wigs, or it was absolutely fantastic, and, you know, the magic of Make A Circus was…I remember two acts that the kids did. One, these two girls got on a kind of…jungle climbing frame, right, and it was the actual circus because we had a list of acts, and so all the children did their acts. These two girls were dressed up, in, I think in bra straps, somehow, just twirling on this, this climbing frame, with, fifty people clapping for them, and I remember the magic of it. I was standing there saying to myself this is what they do every day, but today is really special, we were all there you know, it was a circus act, and they were being clapped for and applauded, I love that moment. Another ingenious thing, these kids were amazing at figuring out circus acts, amazing. Another girl had her much younger, she was about eight, nine, and she had her younger sister who was maybe four, trailing behind her, all day and it was really getting, it was getting on her nerves that she couldn’t you know, work with her peer group, you see, because of this younger one…and about an hour before the circus started, I didn’t see her at all, and I thought, oh god, she’s gone home, she’s got too frustrated, you know, looking after her sister, but then appears one of the acts, right, she’s sitting in the middle. We had this big canvas like a circus ring, you see, so it was the stage kind of thing, you now with the audience all around it, in a circle, and this girl comes on, and she puts her hand up the back of her sister’s dress, and she’s the ventriloquist, you see, so she says to her sister ‘and what’s your name?’ and her sister says ‘nyen nyen’ which was, like, brilliant, it was genius, I mean who could possibly devise such a thing? You know it was just amazing, I couldn’t believe it.
Nancy: The thing that Peter Hulton brought to it [Antigone] – I think he was bringing a lot of the aesthetic of the Living Theatre because, he kept trying to insert situations where we were talking directly to the audience which maybe wouldn’t have been my obvious choice. And he came up with this thing where, because Antigone is all about the fact that she’s trying to bury her brother and is not allowed to bury her brother – he came up with this idea which I think he may have actually got from the Living Theatre, I don’t really know, because they did a production of Antigone which I can’t remember whether or not I ever saw it, but where the actors would take turns lying at the front of the stage as if they were the body of Polynices and then every once in a while, we/everybody would come forward and address the audience and say to the effect, ‘How many Polynices are there in the world? Polynices? How many?’ and then as if saying to the audience, ‘There are so many neglected, unburied Polynices’, and then there would be a switch over where another actor would take the place of the actor that was on the floor -so it was a very strong image where the other actor would lie down next to him, roll over and take his place and that was very much Peter’s idea. Then at the very end – because Antigone gets into so much trouble when she tries to bury her brother – and the way that we did it, was when she arrived she had two handfuls of shredded newspaper and when she buried him she, she put these shredded newspaper across his body, that was how she buried him, and then she got arrested for doing it. So at the end of the play we would invite the audience to come and bury Polynices – but we didn’t use the body, I think we had a box, for some reason. I think we had a box and we would invite the audience to come as if they were making a political gesture, sort of saying I (pause) – we’ll what is it? – she stood out from, from authority because she felt that her/the human need to bury her brother was stronger than any political credo – or whatever – and of course when we were in the circus tent [Edinburgh Festival venue] for example we actually used the sawdust that was around the edges, and she buried the body, and then we asked people to come and help ….but people would never do it in England! People would never come up! Well in Germany everybody – the entire audience wanted to bury he body. They all came forward and they all wanted to put the, you know, the paper in the box, and so afterwards I think there was a lot of controversy about it and there were people writing in and saying it was an empty gesture and it was naïve and I think, I know when we tried to get the articles – in German – translated I know there was a lot of controversy – but it created a sensation, people were very excited about this. But the whole idea of asking the audience to be involved, I think that was coming from Peter having been with the Living Theatre, I think….
DC: Yes, that’s interesting
NM: … asking people to – like – if you had to be on Antigone’s side or if you had to be on Creon’s side – what would your decision be?
Mica: Dinah [Brook] wrote a play and I think some of us got together. Then there was ‘The Womens Theatre Group’ and then it split. And I don’t have a very clear memory of the split except for – there has been a mistake that kind of circulated – we, those of us that stayed together, certainly weren’t interested in advancing our careers – we were much more interested in disseminating a political message and the people [who] remained in the Women’s Company were the ones who wanted women directors – women – more roles for women – you know, better plays for women and all that sort of stuff and we were much more part of the TACT organisation [The Association of Community Theatres] later you know the theatre the alternative theatre political community thing and I think that was driven partly by Anne [Engel] I think and probably by me – because I didn’t sympathise particularly with the other side but also the other two people who ended up with us who were quite relevant: Jean Hart – do you [know]? who was married to Bill Oddie at the time and Lynn Ashley – who was married to Eric Idle so we had this kind of rather unusual composition of sort of people – collective of people – and both of them [with] successful partners and high profile and didn’t particularly care about being successful in a way themselves, and I guess we must have done, in a sense we supported ourselves for a long time, you know. They had young kids too. So we were a little cluster of people with – older – in our thirties with children and then there were a few of them that were younger without – Julia Meadows, Anne, Clair Chapman whose still in – now called Clair Chapwell I think – who lives around the corner from here and I bump into in the greengrocers and then went on to do… and is still involved in theatre I think and Sue Eatwell. I don’t know what happened to her and Frankie Armstrong joined us… as a singer and so… any how we stayed together and started writing . We went to the Arts Council for funding and so did the Womens Company and all I remember is – I remember John Ford from the Oval House – ‘cos I was kind of connected to all those people – I went to the Oval a lot and hung out with all those theatre people and so on and somebody’s saying – look, scripts can be quite productive and I thought ‘Oh, OK’ lets go for it and we went to the Arts [Council] and we had this meeting with the Arts Council and they gave the money to us – not to the others, you know, at the time the Arts Council was subsidising left wing alternative theatre groups that were trying to reach new audiences and that was part of our intention.
Mica: We started this gallery called City Gallery which has just now been rediscovered and I curated one of the main shows – The Drawing Show
[Susan Croft: Whereabouts was it in..?]
Mica: It was on something like Twenty-third Street and Sixth Avenue and it was in an old building that was later torn down and somebody got to know about me in New York and was doing a history of kind of the Green Gallery and Richard Bellamy – I don’t know if you know these figures and somehow got to find out about me and then passed on my name to someone else who was doing an exhibition about the City Gallery that was only running, only ran for about eight months as an example of artist/young artists curated galleries and spaces and so she was really excited to have found me and – ‘cos especially since I’d been written out of that history there is quite, there are a lot of references to the City Gallery if you go on-line and all, a lot of the other people were much more celebrated and they were male and they were American and they hung around and they became famous and so on and I kind of disappeared from that moment, but actually I was one of the key [organisers]. But I loved doing it and among the people who we got to exhibit – I mean no insurance then amazing you know that they kind of allowed their work to be borrowed was George Grosz, Franz Kline, Philip Gaston you know some of the really big shots and I’ve got a little catalogue and a whole lot of the younger kind of trendier people like Bob Thompson em Claus Oldenberg who wasn’t yet famous, Jim Dine, Jay Milder and Red Grooms, Mimi Gross – there were a few women among them and myself and Mary Frank. There were loads of amazing drawings that we had, we had about 40 artists – I don’t know how we squashed them into this little gallery and so I’ve dug them out of the garage and sot of odd drawers that I’ve saved some and they’re going to be used in this book that’s now [being printed]and in this exhibition that’s now being done.
I think what happened was that I, looking around this country, thought the work [TIE] was extremely good, highly innovative, unique in fact and that it deserved publication. So I went and met Nick Herne [later Herne Books] who was at that time working for Methuen Young Drama and he commissioned a series of 3 volumes of plays for infants, for juniors and for secondary schools, and asked me to check around the country to see what was the best that was going and that’s what I did, and published those. And the TIE companies were very pleased about that except those I didn’t put in of course who probably felt a bit sore about it, but you know I chose what I thought reflected what was happening and reflected it well. And the companies co-operated with photographs, with their own background information and so on, and I think TIE was at its peak in the sense that they established it as a form which would be…which could last for at least a day and happen with a single class of children and which would bravely tackle all kinds of complex public issues which children of those ages we thought to be incapable of dealing with. And they were able to show through the way they used drama and the way the kids were involved in group role, in whichever way they chose, really, it showed that the kids could cope, the kids could learn, the kids could understand, could empathise, could widen their horizons, could use what they already knew, use their own natural empathy and imagination, creativity, and make a lasting impact. I mean it was fantastically exciting to go to school and see Coventry TIE doing the Mining Show or POW WOW or the one about the mercury poisoning and to up to Bolton Octagon and see [name of show obscure], these really innovative shows. I felt privileged really.
Iris: We did The Odyssey . We did a female [version]. I was Odysseus as a Glaswegian. So we did the whole story of The Odyssey and… what do you want to know about it?
David Cleall: I was thinking about how you as a company, you devised, how the ideas….
Iris: …We read the book! (laughter). So we knew the main scenes. And then we’d come in and improvise. And we’d think – How’re we going do Circe and her pigs? Oh! I know, let’s have dancing pigs. Margo [Random] would come in I’ve wrote a song of Circe and the Amazing Dancing Pigs – right that’s that scene done! And we had – we all were the heroes for my trumpet bit (singing) ‘Heroes from over Ithaka – Glory is not a myth-ica’ and that was the opening (imitating trumpet) Toot Toot Towho – that’s how we set off overseas! Each scene we’d think – How are we going to do it and each scene would have a song and dance routine, somewhere involved in it.
DC: So did you have scripts as such?
Iris: Yeh! Yeh! I remember writing….we wrote our own, each of us would play many parts with a main part, OK? I just remember we’d rehearse all day long and then all night long I would be in bed writing my main bit and I’d come in and say – Look ! I wrote this for Odysseus. And then we kind of improvised, and changed it – It was just ah playing. You were on it 24 hours a do – I do remember one day, one person, sure it wasn’t me, said we’ve got to stop working from 9 o’clock in the morning till 10 o’clock at night. We come in for 9, finish at 6 or 7 or 8 at the latest, and have a life! Alright! Which I never did, ‘cos I would carry on (laughter) – for 7 years I would. So you just…I’d be obsessed with writing ideas down – we all were – I mean we all were. So we’d play around and we’d take stuff and throw it out. Most of the time we said yes to people’s ideas. Occasionally we went – No! That’s a crap idea! And that’s when tantrums would begin! As we fought to have our thing in or not – sometimes we’d throw one. So they came together like that and because of our specialist skills. So I’d say – We have to do this with acrobatics in it ‘cos I’m practicing my back flip and I want to put as many in as I possibly can! And other people would be writing songs and we all had a background, I think, in dance or I did anyway. So we’d do dance, and we’d all be a mixture of theatre, dance, clowning, music – these were the points – everything moved around a new song and we did have, I think, wonderful musicians and they were all in different styles Erin [Steel] was a quite genius, Margo was brilliant with American and rock and stuff, Sally Davies did… that’s how.
Emil: This is a great moment for me. We’re sitting around the table as usual wondering what the hell we’re going to do and this could be a few hours that we were just looking at each other and I said Hey! How about something like, when I was in Covent Garden, no I mean my childhood – below the stage and above the stage it was so fantastic that you had all this mechanics going on under the stage and then there was the, you know, the façade above the stage and then suddenly there was a glimmer from Jose [Nava] for instance: Yesss… he sort of said …I’m going to be a grey man and then you knew you were on to for someone had bitten! And then everyone said : Grey Men! – that’s so… so obviously he made the association of no sun – living underneath the stage, this kind of, this being that was grey – wore grey, skin was grey and that was the beginning of this wonderful show we did called The Hamburg Show – that we put on at the theatre there. But it was like [a] spark, that somehow that had ignited his imagination, his grey men had ignited some and it was like a flame that went round, you know, and it’s a wonderful moment because they didn’t come often, because a lot of them were seasoned People Show, people that had been in this particular kind of situation for years, so ideas sounded rather very hack…hackneyed, is it?
Susan Croft: Yes
Emil: and then everyone would just be quiet – How about -there’s me particularly being enthusiastic – How about this tumbler comes in and then, you know, there’s this circus trapeze that come up – and there would be no reaction, you know what I mean the very obvious things but the idea of this somehow fascinated – below and above, darkness / light – grey…and then it turned I thought it was one of the most…just fantastic, then it came into um a chandelier that was a way of lighting – it came from the top of the, and this chandelier was something Mark [Long] had done previously which was broken bottles, you know, so it was a chandelier of broken bottles and it was just….I mean it was poetic. It was one of the most poetic shows, and there was just – and it ended up with a little café with obviously these grey people at and you could smell the bacon and eggs being cooked you know and it was a journey of these grey people through… and then going up to the first floor which was one of – a kind of liberation, had that – what were the Greek overtones, what was the one with the shadows in the cave?
Susan: oh yes, er where you can only see …
Emil: it was a little
Susan:..he only sees the image of the shadows flickering
Emil: exactly that’s what it felt, and then light would come in and it was like a clue as to reality. And there was this lift that Jose decorated and Mark had in particular loved building –and you know it was all operated by hand, it was the lift to the first floor. No, this is a only personal kind of, I’m sure that everyone had a different feeling about this – and it was, Jose had made flowers – it had flower boxes in it, and it was just delightful, it was this little haven, this little lift that we all in the end ended up in, and we were taken up and you’d get this light coming down , looking up as we went into the lift to the stage level , it was just (clicks) fantastic.