Foco Novo

Company name: Foco Novo

Founders: David Aukin, Bernard Pomerance, Roland Rees

Established: 1971

Reason: To present Bernard Pomerance’s Foco Novo 1972

Current status: Disbanded 1989 when their Arts Council funding ended

Area of Work: New Writing with a particular focus on developing Black British writing amongst others

Policy: Small and middle-scale touring and London. Playing Miners Halls through the auspices of the National Union of Minerworkers, new writing by first time writers as well as new plays by experienced writers, touring Arts Centres and Regional Theatres throughout UK, and to Mickery Theatre, Amsterdam. Also, middle to large scale tours of Brecht plays. New Black writing was encouraged. After the untimely death of Alfred Fagon, one of the key black playwrights to write for Foco Novo, an award in his name was created by his friends. Roland Rees was the Chair for many years until 2009 when Winsome Pinnock took over the Chairship. The Alfred Fagon Award is now a nationally hosted annual event, to encourage new black writers. Committed to producing new work in the belief that the writer is the catalyst for theatre. Aimed to present original work to new audiences, who did not always have the opportunity to see it, by touring throughout the UK, Europe and finally to London (playing for 3 weeks at Hampstead Theatre, Royal Court Upstairs, Tricycle Theatre or Riverside Studios), into newly opened theatre spaces. We  also produced plays by Bertolt Brecht, our  guide for the contemporary plays we produced, highlighting Britain in the 1970s and 1980s.  We featured  plays by Black writers – Mustapha Matura, Tunde Ikoli, T-Bone Wilson and Alfred Fagon. It was the policy of Fovo Novo to commission plays from writers on themes instigated by the company. For example, Bloody Poetry, about Shelley & Byron, by Howard Brenton, A Seventh Man, about migrant  workers, adapted by Adrian Mitchell from the book by John Berger, and Tunde Ikoli’s adaptation of  Maxim Gorki’s Lower Depths.

Structure: Management structure:  an unpaid Board of theatre professionals, 2 full time members of staff  – Artistic Director & Administrator. All other staff employed for single productions, e.g. Designer, Actors & Production Staff. Everyone paid same wage. For a time, it was policy for companies of actors  and staff to attend Board Meetings.

Based: London

Funding: Arts Council of Great Britain, with occasional grants from Greater London Council, West Midlands Arts, Southern Arts among others

Performance venues: Foco Novo opened in a double garage in Gospel Oak, a performance area known as the Roxy, and was played, with audiences’ backs against  the walls - both inside the garage, on the street and on the roof, all the action accompanied by a jazz percussionist. In contrast, Nine Days and Saltley Gates played Labour movement halls up  down the country, including the coalfields of South Wales, Yorkshire, Scotland and Kent -  whilst we played new plays for new audiences in new Art Centres on University campuses. All tours culminated at a London Venue.

Audiences: As various as the plays but the shows were chosen/directed at particular audiences – from miners, members of Black communities, University students, Regional audiences + the usual very mixed bag of Londoners.

Gallery:

Company work and process:
The Company generated the work by choosing a story it felt compelled to tell, and by matching the writer to the project. Then followed the work of the writer on the text with input from the director, most usually, Roland Rees, through various drafts of the play. Parallel to this, he would work closely with the designer of the project. Then, armed with the manuscript, he would cast the play, often from a loose pool of actors he was used to working with , thereby producing a company style of work. In the meantime, the Administrator and Company Production Manager would be preparing the details of the tour and co-operating with the chosen venues for the play, & the final London destination. Prior to this the tour booking took many months of the Administrator’s time. He or she had to dovetail the dates, which always proved tricky, being composed of 4-6 weeks of touring the regions, & maybe playing 2-3 venues in one week. In such circumstances the set design had to be imaginatively versatile. Rehearsals lasted 4-6 weeks, depending on the size of the project & the number of cast. Most plays included live music, specially composed, such as The Ass by Mike & Kate Westbrook, & also choreography. It was a feature of the company’s work to use jazz percussion as part of some productions eg Brecht’s Edward 11. ‘Early Days’ discussion with Bernard Pomerance, David Aukin and Roland Rees.

Personal appraisal & thoughts:
During the 17 years Foco Novo received an Arts Council Grant, we were performing in a country run by a conservative government. Our ideas & work were far from & nothing to do with their prevailing values at that time. We supported Labour’s social values which were reflected in all the work we did. Some may say we consistently bit the hand that fed us, but the plays, including co-productions, were produced for the hard-working people of Britain, to reflect their interests and intentionally toured to places that didn’t even have a theatre in their area. Touring, however difficult venues might be, was always an enriching experience for us all, actors especially, and London was the carrot or prize at the end for the Company, most of whom lived in London, even if they didn’t originate there. It was important to the whole Company that we were reviewed by the national as well as regional press.

Reviews: Most of the many reviews over 17 years are held now in the Special Collections Archive of Leeds University Library. Descriptions & listings of the shows produced can be found in Roland Rees’s book, Fringe First-pioneers of Fringe Theatre on Record, published by Oberon Books.
The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance, first produced in 1977 by Foco Novo on tour, at Hampstead Theatre & subsequently on the Lyttelton stage, National Theatre. The play later won Tony and Obie Awards and played a long run on Broadway. UK reviews included: ‘stunning & powerful’  Times‘ … a beautiful & compulsive play’ Times ‘a deeply moving, theatrical experience’  Sunday Express  ‘A great success…an extraordinary play’ Observer Mr Puntila & his Servant Matti by Bertolt Brecht: ‘this enterprising & lively touring company have since 1972 specialised in the new & unusual’ Daily Telegraph ‘Roland Rees directs an excellent Foco Novo company with suppleness, speed & punch’ Morning StarSink or Swim by Tunde Ikoli: ‘ offers fringe groups a lesson or two about developing theatre for the people‘ Circuit ‘witty, pacy production, a skeletal, cunning little play’  Time Out. Withdrawal Symptons by C.P.Taylor: ‘the director Roland Rees has done a magnificent job creating this highly stimulating production’ The Scotsman ‘the admirable travelling fringe group’ The Listener. Conversations in Exile adapted from Brecht by Howard Brenton: ‘splendidly & beautifully adapted’ Birmingham Post, ‘excellent acting partnership’ City Limits ‘a truly dialectical challenge … Recommended’ Time Out  ‘a rare treat’ Bristol Evening Post

Productions:

PRODUCTION NAME
VENUES
DATES
Foco Novo
Writer: Bernard Pomerance
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Glen Beck, Stephen Bradley,
Percussion: Nigel Morris
Lighting: Dick Johson
Laura Esterman, Mona Hammond, Oscar James, Neil Johnston, Judy Monahan, Richard Pendrey Bernard Sterlin
The Roxy
Oval House
1972
Drums in the Night
Writer: Bertolt Brecht adaptation: C.P. Taylor
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Irene Bradshaw, Bill Hoyland, Petra Markham, Ken Morley, Brenda Polan, Stephen Rea, Andy Smith
Designer: Moshe Mussman
Music: Andy Smith
Traverse Theatre
Edinburgh Festival
Hampstead Theatre
1973
Cock Artist
Writer: Fassbinder
Director: Roland Rees
Designer: Norman Coates
Almost Free Theatre1974
Death of a Black Man
Writer: Alfred Fagon
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Mona Hammond, Gregory Munroe, Anton Phillips
Designer: Bernard Culshaw
Hampstead Theatre1975
A Man’s A Man
Writer: Bertolt Brecht adaptation: Bernard Pomerance
Director: Ronald Rees
Cast: Dave Brown, Jack Chissick, Alan Hulse, Terry Jackson, Stefan Kalipha, Peter Marinker, Jestyn Phillips, John Salthouse, Sheila Reid, Tricia Thorns
Designer: Di Seymour
Music: Dave Brown
UK tour
Hampstead Theatre
1975
The Arthur Horner Show
Writer: Phil Woods
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Kevin Costello, Carl Davis, Pat Gerrard,
Stafford Gordan, Alan Hulse, Paul Teague
UK tour1975
The Nine Days and Saltley Gates
Writer: Jon Chadwick and John Hoyland
Directors: Jon Chadwick, Roland Rees
Cast: Aviva Goldkorn, Stuart Golland, Ian Heywood, Alan Hulse,Terry Jackson, Stewart Preston, Mary Sheen, Robin Summers, Gareth Williams
Designer: Central School of Art
UK tour
Oval House
ICA
1976
A Seventh Man
Writer: adapted from John Berger's book by Adrian Mitchell
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: DaveBrown, Aviva Goldkorn, Stafford Gordon, Alan Hulse, Terry Jackson, Stefan Kalipha, Joan-Ann Maynard, Paddy O’Hagan, Stewart Preston
Designer: Ralph Steadman
Costumes: Sheelagh Killeen
Music: Dave Brown
UK tour
Hampstead Theatre
1976
Tighten Your Belt
Writer: Jon Chadwick and John Hoyland
Director: Jon Chadwick
Cast: David Bradford, Aviva Goldkorn, Tony Gower, Sue Glanville,
Carrie Lee-Baker, Maureen Sullivan, Colin Tarrant
Designer: Sarah Pualley
Music: John Greaves
UK tour
Oval House
1977
The Elephant Man
Writer: Bernard Pomerance
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: David Allister, Arthur Blake, Judy Bridgeland, Ken Dury, William Hoyland, David Schofield, Jenny Stoller
Designer: Tanya McCallin
Music: Pat Arrowsmith
Lighting: Alan O’Toole
UK tour
Hampstead Theatre
1977
Withdrawal Symptoms
Writer: C.P.Taylor
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Anne Godley, Mary Maddox, Anthony May, Anthony Milner,
Anthony O’Donnel, Gordon Reid, Rowena Roberts
Designer: Adrian Vaux
UK tour
ICA
1978
On the Out
Writer: Tunde Ikoli
Director: John Chapman
Cast: Michael Feast, Alan Ighon, Ade Ikoli, Hugh Kwachi, Lynn Pearson,
William Murray, Roderick Smith, William Vanderpuye
Designer: Caroline Beaver
UK tour
Bush Theatre
1978
The Free Fall
Writer: Colin Mortimer
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Peter Acre, Beth Ellis, Chris Hallam, Sharman McDonald, Tim Myers, Maggie Shevlin, Peter Wright
Designer: Tanya McCallin
UK tour
ICA
1978
Independence
Writer: Mustapha Matura
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Malcolm Fredericks, Michael Howard, Mary Jones, Stefan Kalipha,
Shope Shoedeinde, Ewart James Walters
Designer: Adrian Vaux
Lighting: Chris Ellis
UK tour
Bush
1979
Landscape of Exile
Writer: David Zane Mairowitz
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Martin Black, Jeff Chiswick, Michelle Copsey, Carl Davis, David Hargreave, Michael Howard, Vera Jakob, Brigitte Kahn, Joseph Peters, John Phillips, Frances de la Tour
Designer: Iona McLeish
Lighting: John Halle
Half Moon Theatre 1979
The Guise
Writer: David Mowat
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Cliff Burnett, Andrew Berezowski, Carl Davis, Ken Drury, Caroline Hutchison, Neil Johnston, Tom Marshall, Michael McVey
Designer: Adrian Vaux
Music: Cliff Burnett
Lighting: Chris Ellis
UK tour
Royal Court,
Theatre Upstairs
1979
Woyzeck
Writer: Georg Buchner
Translation: Peter Hulton
Director: Neil Johnston
Cast: Ken Bones, Andrew Berezowski, Jack Elliot, Nigel Harris, Karl Johnson, Jill Richards, Gwyneth Strong, John Vine
Designer: Alberto Bali
Lighting: Gerry Jenkinson
UK tour
Lyric Studio,
Hammersmith
1980
Please Shine Down On Me
Writer: Olwen Wymark
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Sheila Burrell, Alan Devlin, David Howey, Veronica Quilligan, Pauline Munro, James Saxon
Designer: Iona McLeish
Lighting: Peter O’Toole
UK tour
Royal Court,
Theatre Upstairs
1980
Quantrill in Lawrence
Writer: Bernard Pomerance
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Ron Cook, Don Fellows, Penny Fischer, Eugene Lipinski, Dan Meaden, Patrick Moore, Richard Moore, Joe Praml, Mary Ellen Ray, David Shofield, Harold Saks, Joi Staton, Dikran Tulaine
Designer: Iona McLeish
Lighting: Gerry Jenkinson
ICA 1980
Citizen Ilyushin
Writer: Kevin Mandry
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Carl Forgione, Dione Inman, Richard Kane, Maureen O’Brien,
Reginald Stewart, Jenny Stoller
Designer: Bernard Culshaw
Lighting: Alan O’Toole
Tricycle Theatre 1981
Snap
Writer: Nigel Gearing
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Johnathan Burn, Lucinda Curtis, Oliver Ford Davies, Colette Hillier
Designer: Adrian Vaux
Costumes: Sheelagh Killeen
Music: Steve A'dor
Lighting: Alan O'Toole
UK tour
New End Theatre
1981
Edward II
Writer: Bertolt Brecht
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: James Castle, David Dixon, Ian Hogg, Karl Howman, John Joyce, Roderic Leigh, Billy McColl, Vincent McLaren, Beth Morris, Matthew Scurfield, Reg Stewart, Robin Summers, Dorien Thomas
Designer: Adrian Vaux
Lighting Gerry Jenkinson
Percussion: Eddie Sayer
UK tour
Hampstead Theatre
1982
Sink or Swim
Writer: Tunde Ikoli
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Brian Bovell, Janet Key, Trevor Laird, Pat Leach, Tony London,
Mary Zuckerman
Designer: David McHenry
UK tour
Tricycle Theatre
1982
Conversations in Exile
Writer: Bertolt Brecht adapted Howard Brenton
& Four Hundred Pounds
Writer: Alfred Fagon
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Gordon Case, Stefan Kalipha
Designer: Wallace Heim
Lighting: Ace McCarron
UK tour
Royal Court,
Theatre Upstairs
1982
Mr Puntila and His Servant Matti
Writer: Bertolt Brecht
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Dallas Cavell, Kim Clifford, Craig Crosbie, Sara-Heliane Elliot, Carol Harrison, Anna Manahan, Bunny May, Penny Ryder, Barry Stanton, Robin Summers, Charles Wegner, Peter Wyatt
Designer: Peter Hartwell
Lighting: Andy Phillips
Costume: Sheelagh Killeen
UK tour
Tricycle Theatre
1983
Sleeping Policemen
Writers: Tunde Ikoli and Howard Brenton
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Carrie Lee-Baker, Trevor Butler, Craig Crosbie, Alfred Fagon,
Mary Ellen Ray, Ella Wilder
Designer: Wallace Heim
Lighting: Dick Johnson
UK tour
Royal Court,
Theatre Upstairs
1983
Black Mas
Writer: John Constable
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Trevor Butler, Carol Harrison, Ian Reddington, James Snell
Designer: Peter Whiteman
Costume: Sheelagh Killeen
Lighting: Steve Whitson
UK tour
New End, Hampstead
1984
Bloody Poetry
Writer: Howard Brenton
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: James Aubrey, Sue Burton, William Gaminara, Jane Gurnett,
Valentine Pelka, Fiona Shaw
Designer: Poppy Mitchell
Costume: Sheelagh Killeen
Lighting: Richard Moffatt
UK tour
Hampstead Theatre
1984
Deathwatch
Writer: Jean Genet
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Sean Bean, Jimmy Chisholm, Garry Lilburne, Vicenzo Ricotta
Designer: Andrea Montag
Lighting: Richard Moffatt
Music: Andrew Dickson
UK tour
Young Vic
1985
Week In, Week Out
Writer: Tunde Ikoli
Director: Tim Fywell
Cast: Peter Attard, Maria Charles, Harry Perscy, Debbie Roza, Cindy Shelley, Larrington Walker
Designer: Bunny Christie
London tour 1985
The Ass
Writer: D.H. Lawrence devised/composed, Mike & Kate Westbrook
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Trevor Allan, Stephen Boxer, Lesia Melnyk, Kate Westbrook,
Mike Westbrook, Peter Whyman
Designer: Ariane Gastambide
Choreography: Pat Garrett
Lighting: Richard Moffatt
Riverside Studios 1985
The Lower Depths
Writer: Tunde Ikoli from Gorky
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Maria Charles, Ram John Holder, Joy Lemoine, Janet Palmer, Robin Summers, Rudolph Walker, Sylvester Williams, Colin Tarrant, Tilly Vosburgh
Designer: Tanya McCallin
Lighting: Richard Moffatt
UK tour
Tricycle Theatre
1986
Banged Up
Writer: Tunde Ikoli
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Trevor Laird, Tilly Vosburgh
Designer: Andrea Montag
Lighting: Richard Moffatt
UK tour
Young Vic
1986
Needles of Light
Writer: James Pettifer
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Martin Gower, Harry Landis, Richard Mayes, Stephen Oxsley, Gengiz Saner, Dorien Thomas, Hilary Townley
Designer: Ariane Gastambide
Choreography: Pat Garrett
Lighting: Richard Moffatt
Music Director: Robin Canter
UK tour
Riverside Studios
1987
The Cape Orchard
Writer: Michael Picardie
Director: Roland Rees
Cast: Norman Beaton, Claire Benedict, Pauline Black, Naomi Buch,
Joseph Charles
Designer: Norman Coates
Lighting: Richard Moffatt
UK tour
Young Vic
1987
Savannah Bay
Writer: Marguerite Duras
Director: Sue Todd
Cast: Faith Brook, Alexandra Mathie
Designer: Iona McLeish
Lighting: Geraint Pughe
London tour 1988

Interviewee reference: Roland Rees

Links: Roland Rees (website under construction)

Existing archive material: Leeds University Library – Special Collections

Bibliography:
Fringe First – Pioneers of Fringe Theatre on Record by Roland Rees (Oberon 1992)

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank, and are greatly indebted to, Roland Rees (co-founder) for his generous time in writing up and helping us draw together the above material to create the Foco Novo page, 2010 – 2011. Page created by Jessica Higgs. 2010


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