Company name: Forkbeard Fantasy
Founders: Chris, Tim and Simon Britton (1973) and Penny Saunders (1979)
Reason: ‘To connect our loves of mechanical and kinetic sculpture, film, comedy, writing and cartoon, and present mixes of these in live performance events both indoors and outside.’ (Tim Britton 2013)
Current Status: Still going strong – Forkbeard Fantasy
Area of work: Experimental
Policy: ‘We base our theatre on surrealist portrayals of the human condition.’ (Alternative Theatre Handbook 1975)
‘With constructions and gadgetry, animation and film, and an overriding sense of the comic and absurd, to excite, disturb, amuse and sometimes (all opinions accepted) even to annoy as many people in as many places as possible. Flexibility at all times.’ (Alternative Theatre Directory 1983/84)
Structure: Collective of freelance artists
Based: Various locations in the West Country. Currently – Bristol office/Devon studios.
Funding: Arts Council and Regional Arts Associations
Performance venues: Anywhere. UK and international tours.
Audiences: Anyone…all ages
Please see Forkbeard Fantasy people for details about our interviews with Tim and Chris Britton, Penny Saunders and Ed Jobling.
Company work and process:
There is more to come here but for the time being Tim Britton has sent this about their work at Oval House in the 1970s and 80s:
‘The Government Warning Show was the first full ‘take-over’ style week at the Oval.
We’d done The Single Grey Hair Salami Show with Ian Hinchliffe/Matchbox Purveyors in the Upstairs [space at Oval House] in 1976 and Nick (terrible –I’ve forgotten his surname) who was the programmer encouraged us to come up with a special full-on presence at the Oval.
We suggested a big take-over of the building…a special large-scale build show in the Downstairs [space], our show Men Only Upstairs and a lovely environment in the café, designed and built by Caroline Lee and Steve (argh! I’ve forgotten his surname too) both from Digswell House Artists community in Welwyn… AND not forgetting The Johnny Rondo Trio playing in the café environment.
The whole event was what would now be called ‘immersive’ and was something both Forkbeard Fantasy and IOU were doing all over the country at that time – creating environments all over buildings that the audience travelled through.
So The Government Warning Show was our first big do at The Oval…around 1977.
(We have extremely fond memories of Judith Knight and Seonaid Stewart [they went on to set up Artsadmin in 1979] who did all the office stuff and were huge friends and supporters of Forkbeard Fantasy and of course Roz [Price] & Alphie [Pritchard] with whom we also became great friends – who couldn’t?!)
After that came The Grid Reference Show but this time we linked up with Crystal Theatre who did The Upstairs with Johnny Rondo in the Café once again.
And then there was Ghosts 1985 – another big 3-day build show Downstairs.
And The Clone Show 1980 ditto.’
Personal appraisal and thoughts:
Tim Britton on Forkbeard then and now (2013): ‘Forkbeard has been evolving for nearly 40 years. Originally started in 1974 as an experimental performance art group, it has developed into what is now a thriving multi-media arts company, producing and presenting their highly individual brand of comic surrealism across the UK and abroad without stop. This makes Forkbeard one of the UK’s longest surviving independent performance companies.
Much of the company’s development has been based around touring theatre shows. However this is just one element of a diverse field of work. Forkbeard have a broad range of skills in street and stage theatre, writing, poetry, animation, film-making, mechanical installations and interactive sculptures. Everything we do carries the common themes of innovation, humour and invention, and all with a unique Forkbeardian twist. Still true to its avant-garde origins, the work, be it stage show or mechanical museum exhibit, champions magic, entertainment and fun.
On stage the Forkbeard trademark mix of film, animation, cartoon with live performance in the 1970s has continued to set them apart as pioneers of a new wave of multi-media theatre. In the past couple of years Forkbeard have pulled away from touring theatre shows which had been a large percentage of our bread and butter across 38 years. We still perform ‘one-offs’ and special outdoor events.’
After 35 years of Arts Council funding Forkbeard received a 100% cut in 2012. We no longer apply to them, preferring to forge our own way.’
|A Forkbeard Fantasy||Edinburgh Fringe Club; Warwick University Festival||January 1974|
|A Potted History of Theatre||Southampton Nuffield Theatre||January 1975|
|Southampton Performance Festival||Southampton Art Gallery; St Mary's Market; parks, streets||June 1975|
|Production unknown||Edinburgh Festival||September 1975|
|The Excretia Show||St Edmunds Church, Salisbury and on tour in theatres and outdoor events||October 1975|
|The Rubber God Show||On tour in theatres and outdoor events||November 1975|
|The Cranium Show||UK tour and Lantaren Rotterdam’s Unrequited Love Festival.||January 1976|
|The Single Grey Hair Salami Show||Oval House, Rotherhithe Warehouse, Birmingham Arts Lab and village halls||March 1976|
|The Road Show||Southampton Art Gallery||April 1976|
|The Government Warning Show||April 1976|
|Men Only||January 1977|
|Colour Change||Foyer spaces, outdoors, in shop windows||March 1977|
|The Great British Square Dance||Mainly outdoor spaces but also performed indoorss||June 1977|
|Desmond and Dorothy Fairybreath||January 1978|
|On an Uncertain Insect||June 1978|
|The Splitting Headache Show|
Director: Paddy Fletcher
|The Clone Show||June 1979|
|Seal of the Walrus||January 1982|
|The Human Mousewheel||Street performances||March 1982|
|The Bird Show||Late night festivals and fairs. Made for Bruce Lacey’s Fire Fair at Ling in North Norfolk.||June 1982|
|The Brontosaurus Show||January 1983|
|The Library Ssss-sshow||March 1983|
|The Cold Frame||March 1984|
|Headquarters||Outdoor festivals and fairs||June 1984|
|The Brittonioni Brothers||March 1985|
|Porta-P-Royale||Outdoor events||June 1985|
|Plants, Vampires & Crazy Kings||September 1985|
|The Blue Woman was an inflatable that was used in several shows||Outdoor events||October 1986|
|A Waste of Time||March 1987|
|An Experiment in Contraprojection||Touring show including to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Poland, Canada and all over Europe||October 1987|
|Work Ethic||January 1988|
|The Red Strimmers||Made for 'Art In The Garden' at the Glasgow Garden Festival and toured worldwide||March 1988|
|The Cressida Folly||Installation as part of Red Strimmers show||September 1988|
|A Serious Leak||Touring theatre show||January 1989|
Forkbeard Fantasy people
Forkbeard Fantasy website
Existing archive material: Forkbeard Fantasy website
Work Ethic by Forkbeard Fantasy. Walton-on-Thames: Nelson Dramascripts extra, 1995.
Forkbeard Fantasy’s Theatre of Animation ed. Violet McClean & Sean Aita, text+work, Arts University of Bournemouth, 2016 includes ‘Dazzle and Wobble: Forkbeard in Context’ by Susan Croft
Articles and Chapters
‘Penny Saunders: A Landscape of Possibilities’ by Greer Crawley. in Collaborators: UK Design for Performance 2003-2007, eds.Kate Burnett and Keith Allen. London: Society of British Theatre Design, 2007. pp26-31
‘Crossing the Celluloid Divide: Forkbeard Fantasy’ by Greg Giesekam, in Staging the Screen: The Use of Film and Video in Theatre. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Entries in: Alternative Theatre Handbook, compiled and edited Catherine Itzin (TQ Publications, 1976)
and British Alternative Theatre Directory, edited Catherine Itzin (John Offord, 1983/84)
Additional Bibliography and Links
Acknowledgements: This page is in its infancy and is awaiting further information for its completion. The page thus far has been constructed by Carole Mitchell with input from Tim Britton. November 2013. Supplementary material: Susan Croft, May 2017
The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund