Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company

Company name: Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company

Founders: Roger Baker, Lawrence Collinson, Alan Wakeman, Drew Griffiths, Gordon MacDonald, Gerald Chapman, John Roman Baker.

Established: 1974

Purpose: ‘To make heterosexuals aware of the oppression they exercise or tolerate, and expose and end media misrepresentations of homosexuals.’

Current Status: Disbanded by the Board in 1997

Area of Work: Gay and Lesbian, New Writing

Policy: ‘To counteract the prevailing perception in mainstream theatre of what homosexuals were like, therefore providing a more realistic image for the public and to increase the general awareness of the oppression of sexuality, both gay and straight, the impact it has on people’s lives and the society that reinforces it.’ (1975 Manifesto)

Structure: The company was as a collective from 1974 to 1978 when it became a company limited by guarantee run by Artistic Directors. The Artistic Directorship of the company was shared between a voluntary panel of six. All other staff were employed for single productions, e.g. Designers, actors & production staff. From 1991 until its closure the company was led by two Artistic Directors.

Funding: Originally financially self-supported, relying on the voluntary work of it’s members and project funding. In 1976/77 they received funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation. From 1977 to 1981 they received project/touring funding from the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Regional Arts Associations. In 1981 the company was forced to close due to the suspension of funding. In 1984 the Arts Council of Great Britain granted them a touring subsidy. In 1985 they received an annual grant from the Greater London Arts Association (GLAA) which enabled them to maintain an office and two paid staff. There was further funding from the Greater London Council for the Gay Times Arts Festivals in 1985 and 1987. At the same time Noel Greig was successful in getting charity status for the company which meant that it could develop a fundraising scheme (POSH – Pals of Sweatshop). In 1989, led by David Benedict, the company applied to the Arts Council for annual funding and a Board was subsequently recruited and two permanent Artistic Directors (James Neale Kennerley and Lois Weaver).

Based: The company office was originally run from Drew Griffiths’ front room in Marius Road, Balham. They moved to an office above London Friend in Upper Street, Islington. From 1984-88 they operated from Noel Greig’s house in West Hampstead and moved into permanent office space in 1989.

Performance Venues: The ICA, The Drill Hall, Theatre and Arts Centres. Working men’s clubs, Theatre Festivals, Women’s Festivals, Gay Rallies. The company toured nationally to middle and small-scale venues, and internationally to Holland Germany and Belgium and around Europe.

Audiences: Gay Sweatshop’s sell-out founding season at Inter-Action’s Almost-Free Theatre in February 1975 had full houses of main­stream lunch-hour theatre-goers provided by members of the Ambience Lunch-hour Theatre Club. This inaugural season was so successful that several of the plays transferred to other theatres – including Thinking Straight by Lawrence Collinson and Ships by Alan Wakeman. This first season finally ended in June when Inter-Action needed their theatre back. As Gay Sweatshop was entirely created by volunteers it had no money but managed to subsist somehow as a touring company with a political agenda and smaller mainly gay and lesbian audiences until Arts Council funding was obtained in 1977.

Gallery: 

Company work and process:
In 1973 Inter-Action staged a Women’s Season of plays at the Almost Free Theatre. In 1974  Inter-Action advertised for gay writers to submit plays with a view to starting a gay company and in 1975 Gay Sweatshop was formed, staging the season Homosexual Acts. Following the company’s initial success, more plays were commissioned  and they were invited to perform a lunchtime season at the ICA. In 1976 Gay Sweatshop wanted to involve equal numbers of men and women in the company, and as a step towards that, they invited Mary Moore, Kate Crutchley and Jill Posener to join the company with Any Woman Can (see Mary Moore’s video extract). The company embarked on a tour in 1976 of Any Woman Can and the company’s first devised play Mister X, including to Ireland where they encountered controversy at the Project Arts Centre.  In 1977 they were awarded funding by the Arts Council. That same year the company split into men’s and women’s companies.

In 1977 Noel Greig joined the company and co-scripted the show As Time Goes By, which was a major success. Philip Osment joined the company the same year as a performer. In the same year, some of the women in the company were centrally involved in setting up the Women’s Festival (see Julie Parker’s quote and Kate Crutchley’s audio extract) at the Drill Hall (then Action Space), leading to the company’s close association with the Drill Hall. Following the success of the Women’s Festival the men in the company were invited by the Drill Hall to stage a gay, male festival, the Gay Times Festival. In 1978, Gay News magazine published a number of statements from Gay Sweatshop members titled, Why I’m in Gay SweatshopIn 1979 the men’s company produced Dear Love of Comrades and Iceberg was devised as a mixed company. The company continued to produce shows until 1981 when it closed for two years due to lack of funding in a climate of funding cuts and political oppression under Margaret Thatcher. It was revived in 1983 to produce Noel Greig’s Poppies.

In 1984 Drew Griffiths was murdered. In 1985 and 1987 Gay Sweatshop hosted two gay New Writing festivals Gay Sweatshop Times Ten Festival and Gay Sweatshop Times Twelve Festival. In 1987 Gerald Chapman actor and playwright died of an AIDS related disease (see Noel Greig’s video extract). After his death, the Gerald Chapman Trainee Director Award was set up at the Royal Court Theatre. The same year Noel Greig resigned but still remained close to the company, in 1989 writing Paradise Now and Then with music by Richard Coles. In 1988 the company was instrumental in setting up the Arts Lobby to oppose Section 28. This was also the year of the first Gay Sweatshop play by a Black writer: Twice Over by Jackie Kay. The company worked as a collective throughout much of its existence but in 1991 the Arts Council insisted that they employ a male and a female Artistic Director: Lois Weaver and James Neale-Kennerly. The company closed in 1997 due to lack of funding.

Personal appraisals and thoughts:
Roger Baker:
‘Why a gay theatre group? This is a question that has been asked many times since the existence of Gay Sweatshop became known. The idea that homosexuals might identify themselves and concentrate energy in one particular area is still greeted with bewilderment, apprehension and, sometimes, scorn. The very reality of such reactions is, in fact, an answer to the question.’

Nancy Diuguid: ‘We hope to make an artistic contribution to the theatrical scene; if we can attract people to us, professional theatre people and others, who are not ashamed of being gay, then we shall have made a political contribution also.’

Philip Osment: ‘In many ways the five members of the company were like ambassadors for the Gay movement and it was crucial that they were themselves gay. Through travelling around the country with the play [Mister X], holding discussion and providing Gay News and gay publications on the book stall, the company became part of the of a network of media and were forging links with people all over the country. Sometimes the performances provided the first impetus for the setting up of a local gay group because it brought people together, or it helped local groups to gain new members and consolidate their activities. Often campaigns against the company would backfire, as happened in Golder’s Green, and people who might otherwise have sat on the fence would be politicised by seeing intolerance and prejudice masquerading as morality and decency.’ (Four Plays and a Company)

See Kate Crutchley‘s video quote on Care and Control.
See Julie Parker‘s audio quote on touring with Gay Sweatshop.

Kate Owen: ‘I joined the new G.S.Management Committee after Poppies in 1984. It was both an honour and a poisoned chalice! At first it was just three chaps and myself, and then Tierl Thompson joined. It was such a difficult time for gay people in the UK because there had been the beginning of a ‘Liberation’ for some of us, which was followed by ‘The Gay Plague’ and Clause 28. Gay Sweatshop was mentioned in the debate in the House of Commons [Clause 28], Neil Kinnock‘s office wanted him photographed on our This Island’s Mine set, and Ian McKellen wanted to be in the show. By the time that I left in 1990 we had produced an enormous amount of work, which had toured all over This Island. Was it ‘the best time of our lives’?
And today in 2014, Gay Marriage became legal in the UK for the first time.’

Simon Callow:Passing By was my first experience of political theatre. Though in essence a very sweet account of a passing love affair between two young men, it was utterly radical in offering no apology or explanation for the affair – it was just an affair, like any other. The effect on the predominantly gay audience was sensational – they wept, not because it was sad, but because it was the first time they’d seen their own lives represented on stage without inverted commas, with neither remorse nor disgust. Mart Crowley’s Boys’ in the Band – ‘Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse’ – had been packing them in, gay and straight, in the West End only a couple of years before: the acceptable face of homosexuality – brittle anguished, self-loathing. Passing By was the antidote to this seductive but poisonous brew. I was shaken by the effect the play had on the audience…. It provoked in it’s audience a huge collective sigh, as if sloughing off a centuries- old interdict. The defensive, the reflective, the self-protective mask was shed, and shy, tender, loving emotion flowed gently round the tiny auditorium. The slight play had the power, like a great popular song, of speaking directly not only to, but for, its auditors.’

Reviews:
Ships
‘..
.a clever, humorous, shrewdly observed almost-sexual encounter’  (The Guardian 1975)
Thinking Straight
‘…
a buoyant funny piece of Gay agitprop… it communicated itself immediately to the audience and went like a bomb (in the English sense).’  (Time Out 1975)
Mister X
‘Mister X’ has already been controversial and performances have been heckled by outraged vicars, but clearly sexational journalism can no longer halt them in their tracks.’  (Time Out 1976)
Any Woman Can
The significance of the play was that it went beyond the individual level arguing that homosexual relationships are as valid as heterosexual ones and problematical only in terms of society’s prevailing values! The evening brought together theatre and audience in a dynamic interaction, to consider a significant social question, linking sexual oppression with the wider oppression of women in our society.’  (The Morning Star 1976)
Read more reviews here

Productions:

PRODUCTION NAME
VENUES
DATES
Limitations
Writer: John Roman Baker
Director: Drew Griffiths
The Almost Free Theatre
(Part of Homosexual Acts season)
1975
Thinking Straight
Writer: Laurence Collinson
Cast: Anthony Sher, Peter Small, Linda Beckett
The Almost Free Theatre
(Part of Homosexual Acts season)
1975
Ships
Writer: Alan Wakeman
Director: Gerald Chapman
Cast: Iain Armstrong, Elaine Ives-Cameron, Jim Duggan, Barry Parman, Anthony Smee, Andrew Tourell, Timothy Welsh
The Almost Free Theatre
(Part of Homosexual Acts season)
1975
Fred and Harold
Writer: Robert Patrick
Director: Stewart Trotter
Cast: Barry McCarthy, Peter Whitman
The Almost Free Theatre
(Part of Homosexual Acts season)
1975
One Person
Writer: Robert Patrick
Director: Stewart Trotter
Cast: Michael Deacon
The Almost Free Theatre
(Part of Homosexual Acts season)
1975
Passing By
Writer: Martin Sherman
Director: Drew Griffiths
Cast: Simon Callow, Michael Dickinson
The Almost Free Theatre
(Part of Homosexual Acts season)
1975
The Haunted Host
Writer: Robert Patrick
Director: John Chapman
Cast: Joseph Pichette, Ned Van Zandt
The Almost Free Theatre
(Part of Homosexual Acts season)
1975
Mister X
Writer: Roger Baker and Drew Griffiths
Cast: Drew Griffiths, Alan Pope, Phillip Howells, Grant McDonald
CHE Conference Sheffield, ICA, national and international tour. 1975
Any Woman Can
Writer: Jill Posener
Director: Kate Crutchley
Cast: Brenda Addie, Helen Barnaby, Donna Champion, Kate Crutchley, Nancy Diuguid, Patricia Donovan, Vanessa Forsyth, Sandra Freeman, Patricia Garwood, Sara Hardy, Elizabeth Lidsay, Penelope Nice, Julie Parker
Design: Mary Moore
The Haymarket, Leicester, ICA, The Kings Head, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and a tour of England and Ireland. 1976
Randy Robinson's Unsuitable Relationship
Writer: Andrew Davies
Director: Kate Crutchley
Design: Mary Moore
ICA1976
The Fork
Writer: Ian Brown
ICA1976
Stone
Writer: Edward Bond
ICA1976
Indiscreet
Writer: Roger Baker and Drew Griffiths
ICA, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and a tour of England, Ireland and Holland. 1976
Jingleball 1
Devised by: Gerald Chapman and Kate Crutchley
Cast: Gerald Chapman and Kate Crutchley
Music: Tom Robinson and Alex Harding
ICA1976
Jingleball 2
Devised by the company and scripted by Drew Griffiths
Cast: Drew Griffiths, Gordon, Nancy Duiguid
Music and Lyrics: Michael Richmond, Tom Robinson, Jill Posener and Alex Harding
Oval House London for Gay Pride and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
1976
Age of Consent
Writer: Gerald Chapman
1976
As Time Goes By
Writer: Noel Grieg and Drew Griffiths
Cast: Gordon Alex, Philip Timmins, Philip Osment, Bruce Bayley
Design: Paul Dart
Stage Manager: Peter Charles
1977
Care and Control
Research and devising: Nancy Diuguid and Priscella Allen.
Writer: Michelene Wandor
Director: Kate Crutchley
Cast: Kate Phelps, Michael Kellan, Natasha Fairbanks, Helen Barnaby, Kate Crutchley, Nancy Diuguid, Michael Kellan
Design: Mary Moore
Music: Terri Quaye
Photography: Jill Posener
Poster design: Isobel Irvine
1977
As Time Goes By
Writers: Noel Greig and Drew Griffiths
The Drill Hall1978
Warm
Devised by the men in the company
The Drill Hall1978
What the hell is she doing here?
Devised by the women in the company
The Drill Hall1978
Iceberg
Devised by the men and women of the company
The Drill Hall1978
Dear Love of Comrades
Writer: Noel Greig
Musical score: Alex Harding
The Drill Hall1979
I LIke Me Like This
Writers: Sharon Nassaeur and Angela Stewart Park
The Drill Hall1979
Who Knows
Writers: Philip Timmins, Sarah Hardy and Bruce Bayley
The Drill Hall1979
Blood Green
Writer: Noel Greig and Angela Stewart Park
Director: Noel Grieg
Cast: Caroline Needs, Elaine Loudon, Philip Timmins, Stephanie Pugsley, Gordon McDonald
Set, Costume, Lighting Design: Kate Owen
Stage Manager: Pete Charles
Music composition & Recording: Jo- Anne Fraser
Poster Design: Janet De Wagt
Map: Angela Stewart-Park
Production Photographs: Jane Harper
Set Construction: Metheralls Metal Engineers
Electronic Props: Philip Timmins
The Drill Hall1980 - 1981
Poppies
Staged Reading
Writer: Noel Grieg
Director: Noel Grieg
Cast: Jonathan Blake, Robert Hale, Alan Hooker, Philip Osment, Ralph Smith, Philip Timmins, Robin Whitmore.
Oval House:
Director: Noel Grieg
Cast: Robin Samson, Philip osment, Philip Timmins, Ralph Smith, Simon Deacon, Robert Hale, Dave Tomalin
Designer: Kate Owen
Gay CND Weekend Conference, London,
Oval House
1983
Poppies
Writer: Noel Greig
Director: Noel Greig
Cast: Robin Samson, Philip Timmins, Philip Osment, Ralph Smith, Simon Deacon, Robert Hale, Dave Tomalin
Set, costume, lighting design: Kate Owen
Stage manager: Pete Charles
Set construction: Dave White
Poster design, company photographs: Pete Freer
Hairstyles: Jo Moise
Administration: Martin Humphrey
Oval House. It continued it’s tour to Arts Centres, Schools, Colleges, Trade Clubs and Community Centres around the UK1983 - 1984
Poppies
Director: Philip Osment
Cast: Peter Shorey, Gordon MacDonald, David Newlyn, Richard Sandells, Stephen Ley, David Benedit, John Wilson
Designer: Kate Owen
2nd tour1985
Telling Tales
Writer: Philip Osment
Cast: Philip Osment
1984-85
Raising the Wreck
Writer: Sue Frumin
1985-86
Compromised Immunity
Writer: Andy Kirby
Gay Sweatshop Times Ten, The Drill Hall1985
Julie
Writer: Catherine Kilcoyne
Gay Sweatshop Times Ten, The Drill Hall
1985
More
Writer: Maro Green and Caroline Griffin
Gay Sweatshop Times Ten, The Drill Hall1985
Skin Deep
Writer: Nigel Pugh
Gay Sweatshop Times Ten, The Drill Hall1985
This Island's Mine
Writer: Philip Osment
Gay Sweatshop Times Twelve, The Drill Hall1987
Twice Over
Writer: Jackie Kay
Gay Sweatshop Times Twelve, The Drill Hall
1988

Interviewee reference: Kate Crutchley, Noel Greig, Bryony Lavery, Mary Moore, Julie Parker, Michelene Wandor. Philip Osment was interviewed during the development of this page, if you would like to listen to his interview please contact us for more details.

Existing archive material:  Archive material held in the Royal Holloway University archives and can be found at the Noel Greig archive, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.

Bibliography:
Eros and Civilisation by Herbert Marcuse (Sphere Books Ltd, GB 1969)
With Downcast Gays: Aspects of Homosexual Self-Oppression by Andrew Hodges and David Hutte (Pomegranate Press, London 1974)
Homosexual Acts. A Volume of Gay Plays. Ambiance/ Almost Free Playscripts 1. Edited By Ed Berman (Men’s Press, London.)
Strike While the Iron is Hot by Michelene Wandor (Journeyman Press, London 1980)
Carry On Understudies; Theatre and Sexual Politics by Michelene Wandor (Eyre Methuen, London 1981)
Gay Sweatshop Four plays and a company by Philip Osment (Methuen Drama, London 1989)
Not in Front of the Audience. Homosexuality of Stage by Nicholas de Jongh (Routledge, London 1992)
Contemporary Feminist Theatres: To Each Her Own by Lizbeth Goodman (Routledge, Oxon 1993)
Shakespeare’s Queer Children. Sexual Politics and Contemporary Culture by Kate Chedgzoy (Manchester University Press, Manchester 1995)
My Life in Pieces by Simon Callow (Nick Hern Books Limited, London 2010)

Acknowledgements: This webpage was assembled with the generous help of the members of Gay Sweatshop – Kate Crutchley, Noel Greig, Bryony Lavery, Julie Parker and especially, Philip Osment. We are enormously grateful to them for contributing their personal collections of images, scripts and assorted ephemera, as well as their reflections and time. This page has been written and constructed by Ray Malone. November 2013

This creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund


Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders of all images and information used. If you can provide details of owners please contact us.
Copyright Statement